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Welfare, Work, and Poverty: Social Assistance in China.

Welfare, Work, and Poverty: Social Assistance in China. By QIN GAO. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017. 157 pp. 44.99 [pounds sterling] (Cloth).

China's poverty alleviation has made great achievements since the late 1970s. Dibao, or Minimum Livelihood Guarantee, is China's last-resort safety net social assistance, as well as the world's largest public assistance program. In Welfare, Work, and Poverty: Social Assistance in China, Qin Gao seeks to present a comprehensive and systematic evaluation of the effectiveness of Dibao in both rural and urban areas of China.

Based on Gao's previous high-quality research on poverty and social assistance in China, comparing it to other social assistance programs in the world--for instance, the Bolsa Familia Program in Brazil and the Earned Income Tax Credit program in the United States--this book evaluates the effectiveness and impacts of Dibao in nine chapters.

After an Introduction, Chapters 2 and 3 document the development trajectory of Dibao and describe its financing and beneficiaries. From its experimentation in 1993, Dibao has mainly targeted the most vulnerable groups in society--for instance, the "Three Without" (Sanwu) in urban and "Five Guarantee" (Wubao) in rural areas. Measured by population coverage, Dibao is the biggest social assistance program in China, with 52.1 million rural recipients and 18.8 million urban recipients in 2014, accounting for 8.4 percent of the rural population and 2.5 percent of the urban population (p. 4). Dibao is an unconditional cash transfer program, in the financing of which central government transfers have played a dominant role. Since 2011, the central government has contributed more than two thirds of the total urban and rural Dibao expenditures (p. 38). However, the implementation of Dibao policy is dependant on the local authorities, and this makes Dibao a decentralized policy.

Chapters 4 to 8 form the main part of the book, analyzing Dibao, including targeting performance, anti-poverty effectiveness, welfare-to-work initiatives, family expenditure, and the subjective well-being of the recipients. The book argues that although there are significant targeting errors, the population targeting and benefit targeting is "good or even better" compared to other international means-tested cash transfer social assistance programs (p. 59). With regard to antipoverty effectiveness, based on quantitative and qualitative research, the benefit of Dibao is relatively low and modest, and thus still insufficient (p. 77).

The eligibility of Dibao is strongly connected with three other vital social assistance programs: housing, education and health. As a result, becoming a recipient of Dibao means automatically receiving benefits from the other three forms of social assistance, which demotivates people from seeking a job and moving off Dibao. Consequently, 69 percent of Dibao recipients stay inside of Dibao for more than four years (p. 81). Concerning family expenditure, the book argues that Dibao has raised recipient families' overall expenditure in both rural and urban areas compared with their peers who are non-recipients but similar in socioeconomic situation. Between 2002 and 2007, there was an increase of 31.3 percent on education and 42.7 percent on health in urban families' expenditure (p. 104).

However, the lack of privacy protection and monitoring systems means that Dibao recipients are exposed to the public and monitored by their communities, which results in Dibao recipients living with stigma and shame. Compared to eligible but non-recipient families, the reduction in leisure time and social activities among Dibao recipients damages their subjective well-being (p. 116).

Chapter 9 forms the third part of the book. After evaluating how Dibao works, this part puts forward comprehensive and enlightening solutions for improving the performance of Dibao in the future. With regard to the design, implementation and coordination of Dibao, the policy suggestions include increasing governmental subsidies, raising benefit levels, broadening its population coverage, improving its administrative management and collaborating with the non-governmental sector.

As China's largest social assistance program in term of the amount of beneficiaries, Dibao has played a vital role in China's poverty alleviation over the past 20 years. Although the actual individual-received benefit is relatively low, considering the large population and the annual increase on subsidies, the expenditure in Dibao is huge. Furthermore, Dibao is a rapidly growing social program, and research on its performance is relatively sporadic. This book is indeed a timely analysis of Dibao, which provides a reference guide for the implementation of social assistance policies in the future.

The Chinese government has proposed building a moderately prosperous society by 2020, and poverty alleviation is essential to this. Since the policy of targeted poverty alleviation was put forward in 2013, poverty alleviation work has already become a political initiative all over the country. In the meantime, the public display of Dibao families continues due to the lack of an effective monitoring mechanism, and the Dibao stigma is therefore still a problem that cannot be solved in the short term. Meanwhile, targeted poverty alleviation requires the transition of poverty alleviation policy from an extensive model to a precise and accurate one--that is to say, the combination of social policy diversity and local conditions. Under the guidance of this policy, the expenditure on Dibao has increased, but whether coverage is increasing or not remains to be observed.

It is regrettable that evaluation of the roles played by Dibao is not conducted in more detail throughout the book. Although the systematic evaluation of the Dibao system in this book is well-illustrated, it covers only policy implementation results, and does not target the policy formulation and decision-making processes. Also, the book is based on empirical evidence research, and most of the data used--such as CHIP (China Household Income Project) 2002 data, CHIP 2007-2009 rural survey, CFPS (China Family Panel Studies) 2010 data, and UHS (Urban Household Survey)--are from the period 2000-2010, which can only represent the situation during those years. Considering that there have been changes to Dibao policy since 2010, the evaluation cannot reflect the actual situation of Dibao in recent years.

Even so, the value of the book is obvious. First of all, unlike many other Chinese social security policy experts who argue that local governments are the most important financial expenditure parties, Qin Gao emphasizes that in social assistance programs such as Dibao, the central government is the most important financial provider and takes most of the financial responsibility. Secondly, as the first comprehensive work in English to evaluate the implementation results of Dibao, this book not only evaluates Dibao's targeting performance and effectiveness, but also focuses on the psychological and behavioral changes that policies bring to Dibao recipients.

In summary, Welfare, Work, and Poverty is an outstanding work for understanding the current Chinese social welfare system and a remarkable contribution to global comparative welfare literature. As the first comprehensive work on the effectiveness of Dibao in English, this book is highly recommended for those interested in understanding contemporary China.

REVIEWED BY JING YANG, The Research Center on Modern and Contemporary China, The School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences, Paris,

doi: 10.1017/jea.2019.15
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Author:Yang, Jing
Publication:Journal of East Asian Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jul 1, 2019
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