Edited by Beatriz Carrillo, Johanna Hood and Paul Kadetz
Chapter 7: The urban minimum livelihood guarantee: social assistance (just) to stave off starvation
This chapter presents an outline of the Minimum Livelihood Guarantee program (dibao), a social assistance scheme first introduced in Shanghai in 1993 and expanded to all Chinese cities by 1999. The chapter argues that the scheme has been tightly linked to the pacification of laid-off workers (primarily those from the State-owned sector). It was designed also to serve as a new form of basic sustenance for the poor following the collapse of the welfare safety net provided by the traditional urban work unit under the socialist planned economy. The chapter argues accordingly that as public demonstrations by the jobless fizzled out after the mid-2000s, the initial relative generosity of the early phase of the scheme saw declining benefits over time. The chapter uses statistical comparisons to document the increasing miserliness of the scheme: i.e., it compares dibao outlays with average disposable income of urban residents nationwide and with average wages in various cities; and it considers drops in governmental dibao investment as a percentage of gross domestic product and of government expenditure over the years. Finally, the chapter draws on interviews with recipients to convey the pitiable living conditions under which these allowances force them to survive.
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