Sixth, with a commitment to implementing the coordinated regional development and new urbanization strategies, we have promoted more balanced development, and seen new growth poles and belts developing faster. We have actively pursued coordinated development of Beijing, Tianjin, and Hebei, and the development of the Yangtze Economic Belt, drawn up and implemented related plans, and undertaken a number of key projects. We have unveiled a whole series of reforms and innovative measures to see the western region develop, northeast China revitalized, the central region rise, and the eastern region spearhead development. We have stepped up support for old revolutionary base areas, areas with large ethnic minority populations, border areas, and poor areas, and strengthened aid work in Tibet, Xinjiang, and Qinghai. We have steadily moved forward with protecting and developing maritime resources.
We have implemented plans for developing major city clusters, and pursued more balanced development of small, medium, and large cities, and small towns. The vast majority of cities in China have eased restrictions on permanent residency. A residence card system has been put into effect nationwide, and basic urban public services now cover all permanent residents. Development between urban and rural areas and between regions has become better coordinated.
Seventh, with a commitment to a people-centered development philosophy, we have endeavored to ensure and improve living standards and seen the growing satisfaction of the people. Despite fiscal constraints, we have consistently increased spending on improving people's living standards. We have made comprehensive moves in targeted poverty reduction and alleviation, and built a robust working mechanism with central government responsible for overall planning, provincial-level governments assuming overall responsibility, and city and county governments responsible for program implementation. Over the past five years, the central government has appropriated over 280 billion yuan to fund poverty reduction.
We have implemented a proactive employment policy and ensured that key target groups have better access to employment. We have been committed to prioritizing the development of education; and government spending on education has remained above four percent of GDP. In rural areas, we have improved conditions in badly built and poorly operated schools providing compulsory education, and increased the pay packages of teachers, and our Better Nutrition Plan has benefited more than 36 million students. We have launched an initiative to build world-class universities and world-class disciplines. The number of students from rural and poor areas enrolled in key universities through special programs has grown from 10,000 to 100,000. We have increased financial aid to students from financially-challenged families studying in all types of schools, giving out 430 million grants in total. The average length of schooling of the working-age population has been raised to 10.5 years.
Government subsidies for basic medical insurance schemes have been increased from 240 to 450 yuan per person; the serious disease insurance system is basically in place, and has already benefited more than 17 million people; the costs of hospitalization can now be settled where incurred; and the development of tiered medical diagnosis and treatment and healthcare consortiums has picked up pace. We have consistently made appropriate increases to basic old-age pensions for retirees. We have raised subsistence allowances, benefits for entitled groups, and other allowances, and improved the social assistance system, ensuring the livelihoods of close to 60 million people on subsistence allowances or living in extreme poverty. We have put in place a system to provide living allowances for people with disabilities in financial difficulty and nursing care subsidies for people with serious disabilities, a system that has benefited over 21 million people. All couples can now have two children.
We have moved faster to develop cultural programs, and seen the cultural industry grow at an average annual rate of over 13 percent. We have carried out Fitness-for-All programs, which are now in full swing; and Chinese athletes have excelled in competition.
Eighth, with a commitment to achieving harmony between human and nature, we have taken major steps to address pollution, and achieved notable progress in ecological conservation. We have established the notion that lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets and acted with resolve and intensity as never before to strengthen environmental protection.
We have struck out hard against air pollution, thus achieving a drop of over 30 percent in the average density of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in key areas. We have done more to reduce the use of low quality coal, pushed for progress in energy conservation and emission reductions in key industries, and seen 71 percent of coal-fired power plants achieving ultra-low emissions. We have improved the energy mix, cutting the share of coal consumption by 8.1 percentage points and increasing the share of clean energy consumption by 6.3 percentage points. We have improved fuel quality, and taken over 20 million high-emission and old vehicles off the roads.
We have strengthened prevention and control measures against water pollution in key drainage basins and sea areas, and achieved zero growth in chemical fertilizer and pesticide use. We have pursued major ecological conservation and restoration projects, expanded the coverage of initiatives to turn marginal farmland into forest, grassland, and wetlands, and intensified comprehensive efforts to curb desertification, rock desertification, and soil erosion. We have launched central government inspections on environmental protection and investigated and prosecuted cases involving legal violations. We worked toward and saw that the Paris Agreement was put into force; China has played an important role in responding to global climate change.