By Pratch Rujivanarom
NATIONAL budgeting and the welfare system need serious reform if Thailand is to solve its grave problems of social inequality, social justice advocacy groups said yesterday.
The We Fair Network of 13 organisations presented its proposal for reform of the country’s welfare system in seven aspects to key political parties at a forum yesterday. The group said improving the welfare system, making changes to tax collection and improving budget management were essential to solving the problem of wealth disparity and social inequality.
A Credit Suisse report recently named Thailand the most unequal country in the world, with 1 per cent of the population owning 66.9 per cent of the wealth.
The We Fair Network said progressive policies to create an efficient universal welfare system were necessary for combating the problem of gross social inequality. It also cautioned that the government’s approach to reducing poverty and social inequality by targeting social welfare at the poor only was misguided.
Decharut Sukkumnoed, an economics professor at Kasetsart University, said at the root of social disparity in Thailand was insufficient and poor-quality welfare as well unequal access to state welfare among citizens.
“Many poor people are unable to pursue their goals and improve their livelihoods because they do not get enough assistance from authorities to get good education, which is an important foundation in life,” Decharut said.
“Meanwhile, many middle-class people are also facing financial problems as they have to rely on expensive education and healthcare services from the private sector, because the quality of state welfare is poor.”
The network proposed changes on seven fronts – education, healthcare, housing, employment, pension and social equality.
It proposed a boost in budget for the education sector, so the system can be improved. As for health, it urged that all healthcare schemes be merged into one, so each citizen can be provided with quality medical care.
Also, it suggested a progressive land tax, low-interest loans for housing and access to at least 15 rai for each family. In order to boost earnings among low-income Thais, it suggested that the minimum wage be regularly adjusted for inflation. It also suggested that the same be done for pensions and that a state subsidy be provided for the disabled.
Decharut said the most sustainable solution for societal inequality would be a standardised welfare system for one and all, unlike the exclusive welfare for the poor delivered the pro-junta Pracharat Policy.
“It has been found that up to 30 per cent of poor people do not have access to government welfare, so it would better for our society as a whole if the government allocated more funds to enhance the state welfare system,” he said.
Decharut said that even though We Fair Network’s proposed policies would require up to Bt1.4 trillion to install and maintain, this huge expenditure could be considered a wise investment considering the great public benefits.
“If we consider the government’s spending as a whole, we can see that allocating a large part of the country’s budget on welfare is possible,” he said.
“We can boost the country’s revenue by cutting down tax deductions and benefits for direct investments and impose a progressive land tax or inheritance tax on those who can afford it to fund our welfare system.”