Solinger, Dorothy (with Ting Jiang) (2013). Who deserves to be minimally alive in Chinese cities? Urban decisions on the dibao [the Minimum Livelihood Guarantee]. Paper presented at panel on “Local public goods provision in non-democracies” for the 2013 annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Chicago, IL, August 29-September 1.
A. Common Phenomenon?
The institutions of welfare and social assistance have come under challenge in the past decade-plus, first in the industrialized West. What has been designated a “pro-work orientation,” now conditioning state subsidization of the poor, saw its onset with the 1996 “reform” of welfare in the U.S. and soon spread to Britain, continental Europe and other OECD countries. The central issue was the proper relationship that was to obtain between work and welfare; the changed notion became that financial aid ought not to be an automatic entitlement for those in need, but instead a kind of endorsement of labor-based desert for poor people who earned their take.
In China too, it would appear that the central government’s relief plan of the late 1990s and early 2000s was undergoing alteration by the end of the 2000s, also, like those in the West–to judge from central-level proclamations–growing more unfriendly to the idea of funding the fit and the firm. This plan, initially geared to help anyone at all in possession of a city-registered household identification who was indigent, was primarily devised for those who had sunken into poverty following the huge spate of enterprise dismissals after 1997. In fact, the impoverished surged after the cutbacks; according to a recent study of labor conflicts, already in 1997 a “survey of 10 cities showed that 67 percent of laid-off workers were living in poverty and 31 percent had no income at all at the time of the interview.” In the five or six years that followed, many of these suddenly jobless workers went on to protest their difficulties surviving, in response to that situation. Accordingly, the early declarations of the scheme’s intent always referred to sustaining social stability among its very top goals. In fact, that focus on maintaining order has persisted to the present, despite the program’s officially changed perspective of late.
The scheme is labeled the Minimum Livelihood Guarantee (in Chinese the zuidi shenghuo baozhang, or, for short, the “dibao”; its recipients are called dibaohu, or dibao persons (or, alternatively, households). Its stated purpose is to cater to anyone living in a household whose per capita income falls below a locally-set norm.