Govt to let regions establish their own poverty standards

Updated: 2011-08-18 07:43

By Zhao Yinan (China Daily)

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Govt to let regions establish their own poverty standards

A woman puts corn on the roof of her house to dry it in Xishan, a town in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, on Aug 9. The town is a State-level poverty-stricken area with poor road access. [Photo / Xinhua] 

BEIJING - China is allowing local governments to replace the national standards for what constitutes poverty with their own in an effort to lift millions of rural residents out of the ranks of the poor in a decade, a senior official said.

"The latest outline of poverty alleviation and development in rural China, which will be in effect from later this year until 2020, will let provinces and autonomous regions set their own poverty line in accordance with local average incomes, natural conditions and other circumstances," Hong Tianyun, spokesman of the State Council's leading group office of poverty alleviation and development, told China Daily.

Hong, who is also the director of policy for the poverty alleviation office's regulation department, said the plan will only apply to rural China and will be released as early as August.

"Compared with the current national standards, a threshold tailored to actual situations will be more practical and scientific," he said.

The change is likely to affect the at least 26.9 million rural residents in China who meet the current national poverty standard, meaning they were living on less than 1,196 yuan ($185) a year by 2010, according to statistics released by the poverty alleviation office.

The national poverty line, which was set in 2009, has long been considered to be low, especially as new economic prosperity has brought fast increases in living expenses. Experts and the public have recently been calling for poverty standards to be increased; some have proposed that they be raised to 2,000 yuan a year to bring them more in line with standards used by other countries and to ensure that government poverty subsidies are more widely dispersed.

In July, China saw its inflation rise at the fastest rate in three years, going up by 6.5 percent from it had been the year before. The higher-than-expected rise was blamed by many on fast-increasing food prices.

Meanwhile, as many as 150 million Chinese live on less than $1.25 a day, or 2,936 yuan a year, and are regarded as poor under internationally accepted guidelines adopted by the World Bank.

The World Bank's number coincides with a survey conducted by China's statistical authority, which showed that rural residents in China believe the poverty line should stand at 2,935 yuan a year at the least.

"At least 130 million people in China will be regarded as poor if the standard is raised to 2,000 yuan," Li Shi, director of Beijing Normal University's income distribution and poverty research center.

Li said that does not necessarily mean that the higher the threshold is set, the better the results will be. He said an extremely high standard could place too great a drain on the government revenue set aside to pay for poverty subsidies.

As for the new poverty policy, Li said it would be more reasonable to have each region set its own poverty standards, since the cost of living varies greatly from place to place.

"Local governments are more familiar with local conditions and are more likely to work out a feasible and realistic plan," he said.