Poverty line may go up, but will poor care?

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 September, 2008, 12:00am

Zhang Yucai has no idea what a base poverty line is or how it affects him. He simply knows he is very poor.

The 40-year-old military veteran, who fought in a border skirmish with Vietnam in 1985 and returned to his hometown in Sichuan's Yanyuan county, has been living on a 100 yuan (HK$114) veteran's allowance since being laid off from a state-owned enterprise early last year.

'I'm living in a dangerous 50-year-old building and making ends meet with financial help from family and friends. I don't care if there is some poverty line. I'm already so poor,' Mr Zhang said.

He said he had tried to apply for a 60 yuan monthly poverty-relief subsidy from the county government but had been turned down.

The State Council plans to discuss raising the poverty line, now set at 1,067 yuan a year, by the end of the year to enable more people to get state benefits.

Lu Yan, spokeswoman for the office of the council's leading group on poverty alleviation and development, told China Daily that authorities were considering a draft proposal, but did not reveal any details.

Mainland media have speculated that 1,300 yuan a year will become the new baseline.

Using Beijing's yardstick, China had more than 57 million people in poverty last year - 21.48 million in absolute poverty and 35.5 million deemed to be on 'low incomes'.

About 43 million rural residents were living below the poverty line last year.

The figure is expected to double if the threshold is raised to 1,300 yuan.

The proposal comes at a time when the number of impoverished people on the mainland, as defined by World Bank criteria, is declining.

According to those criteria, the number of people living below the poverty line in China fell from 835 million in 1981 to 207 million in 2005 even after it adjusted the threshold to an income of US$1.25 a day, or about 3,100 yuan a year.

Renmin University agricultural economics professor Wang Sangui said the much anticipated increase in the poverty threshold, even though it was minor, would benefit the poor. 'Many people live on incomes near the threshold, and by increasing it, more people will be included as beneficiaries of poverty-alleviation policies.'

He said he would prefer that the threshold be raised above 1,500 yuan because soaring inflation and the yawning gap between the rich and poor had made 'poor people actually poorer'.

'So it's fairer to say the increase is a political gesture that also brings practical benefits,' Professor Wang said.

Below the line

Mainlanders in poverty last year numbered, in the millions: 57