China has seen an unprecedented increase in rural-to-urban migrants in the last three decades, and the extension of welfare programmes to these migrants has been a public concern in urban society. The wellbeing of rural-to-urban migrants is closely associated with their access to various welfare programmes. Although pilot reforms on social insurance extension, which often require co-contribution from both employers and employees, have been implemented in several cities, the participation rate remains low. Participation in non-contributory welfare programmes is closely related to the hukou status, which is also undergoing reform. From a social exclusion perspective, this paper examines the critical issues in China’s welfare reforms in relation to the wellbeing of rural to urban migrants. Using qualitative data on welfare programme participation on both institutional and individual levels, this paper argues that the trends of welfare marketization and decentralization lead the welfare provision system to be more selective than universal. This welfare selectivity helps rural migrants with higher economic status become integrated into urban society and enjoy a sense of belonging in cities, while also creating a dual exclusion for rural migrant workers who are disadvantaged in the urban labour market. Individual-level factors, including employment selectivity, information obtainment, settlement intention, and confidence in future reform, influence the choice to participate in welfare programmes. This paper calls for an increased centralization in welfare system reforms.
- Rural-to-urban migrants
- Social exclusion
- Welfare programme participation