Scholars' views

Alleviating Relative Poverty to Boost Common Prosperity

Since the 18th CPC National Congress, with the implementation of a series of targeted poverty alleviation policies, including accurate identification of the poor and adoption of targeted measures, by the end of 2020, China had achieved the goal of lifting all rural poor population out of poverty as defined by the current standard as scheduled, and built a moderately prosperous society in an all-round manner on the land of China. The country completed the goal of eradicating extreme poverty set forth in the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development 10 years ahead of schedule, greatly contributing to the cause of poverty reduction in the world. At present, we are striving towards the second centenary goal of building China into a modern socialist country. Realizing common prosperity for all is an important feature of Chinese-style modernization.


With the step-by-step elimination of extreme poverty, the Fourth Plenary Session of the 19th CPC Central Committee proposed to consolidate the results of poverty alleviation and set up a long-term mechanism to address relative poverty. 

According to the Fifth Plenary Session of the 19th CPC Central Committee, efforts will be made to establish the effective connection between the consolidation and expansion of poverty eradication results and rural revitalization, set up and improve the mechanism for helping the rural low-income population and underdeveloped areas. To realize the vision of common prosperity for all people, we must cement the hard-won poverty alleviation results, develop a long-term mechanism to deal with relative poverty and lay a solid foundation for promoting common prosperity.



Changing Our Mind


Poverty is a social phenomenon that always exists in economic and social development, with two manifestations: relative poverty and absolute poverty. Extreme poverty means that the disposable income of an individual or a family is not enough to maintain or meet the basic survival or living needs of his/her family members under a certain social production mode or life style. The standard of absolute poverty is characterized by objective materiality at a certain stage of a certain society. Relative poverty is a state of poverty that exists when people compare with each other. It mainly refers to the poverty produced when individuals compare themselves to others. Unlike absolute poverty, which is independent of the income distribution pattern, relative poverty mainly reflects relative economic gap and is used to measure the income equality of different groups in society. It is a comprehensive and complex social phenomenon. In a nutshell, the existence of relative poverty is relevant to the stage of economic development, and in essence, relative poverty is a result of income inequality and uneven distribution.

From absolute poverty to relative poverty, an inevitable result of social-economic development. When the economic development is at a low level, absolute poverty is usually a prominent problem plaguing the society. Along with the continuous development of economy and society, absolute poverty will be eased gradually and give way to relative poverty which will thus become the new hard nut to crack. When compared with absolute poverty, relative poverty turns out to be an even more complex and more difficult problem which may require more policy measures in place. Our country has now realized the goal of eliminating absolute poverty, relative poverty is the major problem that it needs to deal with in the future. It should be realized that even if we have succeeded in building a moderately prosperous society in all aspects, China is still an upper-middle-income developing country where problems related to unbalanced and insufficient development remain prominent and hard work is needed not only to consolidate the existing fruits of the fight against poverty, but also to ease relative poverty.

As a matter of fact, during the fight against extreme poverty, some developed regions in the country, such as Guangdong, Zhejiang, Jiangsu and other provinces, have already begun to explore relative poverty governance and even incorporated relative poverty and relevant governance approaches into local policy papers. The pioneering adoption of relative poverty criteria in these regions has also achieved better results in poverty alleviation, which are worthy of being further promoted in the rest of the country in the future. Promoting common prosperity for all people is a long-term task. The alleviation of relative poverty is an important support for the goal of achieving common prosperity for all by 2035 and making more obviously substantial progress. Relative poverty is a long-standing social problem in the process of social-economic development. The governance of relative poverty is a systematic project involving many fields, including economy, culture and ecology. Building a long-term mechanism for alleviating relative poverty and setting up a sustainable income growth mechanism for low-income earners and enabling them to enjoy the fruits of high-quality economic and social development, all these constitute an important guarantee to push forward common prosperity for all.  

Relative poverty has richer connotations which expand from the single dimension of income or consumption to multiple dimensions. To alleviate relative poverty, we need to explore ways to solve the problem from such dimensions as economic development, social development, natural environment, and cultural environment, involving education, healthcare, housing, rights, development and other aspects. Dimensions and weights can also be detailed further by city-village, region and demographic characteristic so as to adopt more targeted measures for poverty reduction. In this way, it is possible to alleviate and even eliminate relative poverty, achieve the goal of ending poverty in all its forms everywhere set in the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and to make a greater contribution to all mankind. Meanwhile, the goal of relative poverty elimination should shift from currently meeting the basic needs to paying more attention to people's sense of fulfillment, happiness, and security, as well as issues related to development. Efforts in relative poverty elimination should help to enhance the well-being of the relatively poor, bridge their income gap, and ultimately end up in promoting common prosperity for all. The connotation of relative poverty is abundant and complex. The diversified criteria to identify relative poverty should also correspond to the diversified poverty alleviation goals so as to continuously satisfy the growing needs of people for a better life, let more fruits of development benefit all people in a more equitable manner and cope with the unbalanced and insufficient development in many aspects.


Building a Long-term Mechanism to Alleviate Relative Poverty


Based on the new development stage, to comprehensively and accurately implement the new development concept and accelerate the construction of a new development pattern, we should steadily carry out the strategy of promoting common prosperity for all people, take comprehensive treatment of relative poverty as one of the major tasks in the new development stage and explore the establishment of a long-term mechanism to address problems related to relative poverty so as to lay a solid foundation for realizing common prosperity for all people.

First, setting relative poverty standards appropriate to the new stage of development as early as possible. New standards for relative poverty suitable for the new stage of development should be put in place the as early as possible so as to accurately target the relatively poor population. Government departments can consider arranging for the trial implementation of new standards and taking corresponding measures including: adopting the income + Two Assurances and Three Guarantees standards similar to those during the fight against extreme poverty, continuing to retain the system with two comparable indicators, organically combining the relative poverty measurement method with income as the single dimension and the multidimensional poverty measurement method (proxy indicators for income can be introduced) so that they can correct each other. In this way, it is possible to compare with the previous single income indicator system and check its changes and at the same time, it is also possible to obtain multidimensional poverty measurement indicators for the evaluation of multidimensional poverty situation in the future. Besides, comparison can also be made on the basis of the two-indicator system.

Second, implementing the relative poverty governance model featuring urban-rural integration step by step. To build a long-term mechanism for addressing relative poverty, we should adhere to the concept of integrated urban-rural relative poverty governance, establish an integrated urban-rural poverty governance system, and carry out a poverty alleviation strategy that lays equal stress on both cities and villages. The integrated urban-rural relative poverty governance is more complicated than the one-way governance in villages or cities. The success of eliminating absolute poverty under the current standards in our country is inseparable from the rapid development of urbanization and industrialization in the process of urban-rural integration. However, rural residents entering cities in the process of urban-rural integration are likely to become potential poor people due to institutional constraints or obstacles. To deal with relative poverty, we must go beyond the limits of absolute poverty, build a systematic and innovative mechanism for relative poverty governance and strive to realize urban-rural integration as soon as possible so as to effectively avoid the relative poverty populations brought about by urbanization and improve the dualistic system of urban-rural policies in the past poverty alleviation work.  

Third, closely integrating relative poverty governance with rural revitalization. Both regional and urban-rural development gaps are closely related to relative poverty. Poverty governance in the future should closely integrate relative poverty governance with rural revitalization. Vigorously promoting rural vitalization and boosting agricultural modernization is an important way to deal with the poverty trap resulting from urban-rural development gap and is also a fundamental solution to address the problem of unbalanced and insufficient development between urban and rural areas. There are many links between relative poverty and urban-rural relations. Only when we incorporate relative poverty governance into the rural revitalization strategy, endeavor to solve the issues related to relative poverty in the context of urban-rural integration and bridge the urban-rural gap step by step can we truly achieve common prosperity and let the development fruits benefit all people.

Fourth, establishing a sustainable and regular mechanism for relative poverty governance. Relative poverty is multidimensional in nature and requires a combination of multiple policies. Unlike the unconventional but effective way to eliminate absolute poverty as soon as possible during the fight against extreme poverty, relative poverty governance needs to be normalized under the national governance system. The core is to enable the relatively poor to establish a mechanism to achieve their own development by their own endogenous motivation. We should ramp up the role of social security in helping the poor, improve health services of medical institutions at the county level, and provide assistance to the relatively poor in both urban and rural areas in education, medical care and housing, bring the relatively poor people into the scope of poverty governance in the new development stage, and strive to crack various institutional barriers in the process of urban-rural integration; we should make innovations in mechanism to address the poverty-related problem among special groups, such as exploring an elderly care model by coordinating society, families, and individuals to solve the poverty-related problems of elderly people living alone; and we should introduce relevant support policies for the migrant population, etc.


(Source: Chinese Social Sciences Today, September 8, 2021, p.3)