Sat, September 25, 2021

perspective

Social welfare cards simply not enough


Cash cards and paltry monthly allowances will be of genuine benefit only to the government

1,867

View

Social welfare is a boon to citizens, but the concept is not there to be exploited by the powers-that-be for political gain. Nor should slapdash populist projects such as the new cash cards for the poor be rightfully considered a form of social welfare. Low-income earners hit a brick wall on Monday when they tried using their “state welfare cash cards” for the first time to buy discounted goods at so-called Blue Flag retail outlets.
The military-led government introduced the cards in a bid to help 11.67 million needy citizens amid a still-mired economy and reduced market prices for farm products. The government expects to spend 
Bt41 billion annually for the scheme, which some say is far too little to cover everyone in need.
People registering for the card earn Bt100,000 a year or less. People earning under Bt30,000 a year can also receive a Bt300 monthly allowance. People in between, earning more than Bt30,000 but less than Bt100,000, can get Bt200 a month.
The card is only good for purchasing any of the 252 consumer goods available at 17,000 registered Blue Flag shops and for paying fares on buses and trains operated by the state-owned Transport Company and State Railway of Thailand in designated areas. Cash exchanges are not possible. The government had envisioned at least one shop in every tambon, but many cardholders have to travel 10 kilometres or more to find one, meaning they’re already out of pocket by the time they arrive.
What happened in more remote locations upcountry this week – following a technical glitch that has stalled the scheme’s implementation in Bangkok and seven other Central provinces until mid-month – was an interruption of services due to unstable Internet connections. Blue Flag stores rely on Web-linked card scanners to verify and record payments.
Most cardholders are hoping the cards become a permanent fixture. Most also seem pleased with the government’s monthly allowances, but say they really need Bt500 to keep their heads above water. Blue Flag store operators concur that the card scheme will be helpful in aiding the underprivileged and say it’s good for their business too. Some outlets have promoted the concept by offering special deals – a free egg with every Bt100 purchase, for example – to encourage cardholders to spend their entire allowance. 
But it remains unclear how long the scheme will last and why the monthly allowances are so meagre. Bt200 or Bt300 buys a few kilograms of rice, a bottle of fish sauce and a few eggs. For the poor, certainly, a little is better than nothing, but there are better ways the government could be spending that Bt41 billion per annum to help raise citizens’ living standards. An investment that size in the universal healthcare scheme could save many lives. In terms of macroeconomics, a Bt41-billion injection is a drop in the ocean and insufficient to stimulate growth.
In terms of political capital, however, the project will pay dividends for the junta, in effect purchasing the support of the poor. Today’s Cabinet ministers might be wearing military uniforms, but this scheme is no different from what past civilian governments have done to buy popularity. If social welfare really mattered to the generals, a proper, amply funded strategy would be in place to help the underprivileged survive.  

Published : October 04, 2017

By : The Nation