Shanghai will soon become the first city in the mainland to make use of a single card for identification and collecting social welfare benefits in a major step towards creating a real social safety net. The card, with an embedded computer chip and a photograph of the holder, will combine information on medical insurance, housing loans, pension and employment benefits, officials said. 'This is a major convenience for the people of Shanghai. It . . . represents a government effort to meet demands of the information age,' deputy mayor Yan Junqi said. The card has been issued to 5.8 million people and will gradually be put into use early next year. Eventually, every resident over 16 will receive a card. China has been trying to shift the burden of providing welfare benefits away from struggling state enterprises. Shanghai, which has been at the forefront of that effort, was chosen for one of the trial programmes which linked the card to a city-wide database. The cost of the computer network was more than 100 million yuan (about HK$94.7 million), officials said. Shanghai residents use a magnetic card to obtain their medical insurance benefits but it has been unreliable and will be replaced by the social security card. The card will also become a major form of identification in the city. Police officials said it would be required for passport and driver's licence applications. Officials said the database information would not be disclosed. 'The regulations governing the card clearly state that the information cannot be used for commercial or other purposes,' said Sun Jianping, deputy chief of the electronic information office.