Keep elderly payment as is
A proposal to limit recipients of the old-age allowance to only the poor -- shifting from a universal principle -- is a step in the wrong direction.
According to local media reports, agencies under the Social Development and Human Security Ministry recently discussed the proposal, which was raised by a sub-committee on setting the living allowance rates for the elderly amid concerns by pro-welfare civic groups.
Due to its controversial nature, the ministry insisted the proposal is still in the discussion stage.
It said the proposal must be approved by the National Committee on Elderly People and also the cabinet.
"This is just a start for what should be," said the ministry, in an attempt to placate critics. The proposal will have to go through several steps, the ministry said.
But such a meeting is a strong indication about the new direction which contradicts a much-desired comprehensive welfare system.
Dr Wichai Chokwiwat, who chaired the Sept 14 meeting in his capacity as vice-chairman of the National Committee on the Elderly People, said the new regulations, if approved, would mean that elderly people's income would be calculated to decide if they are eligible for the allowance.
The idea aims to provide a big cut in government spending as Thailand is now on the verge of becoming an ageing society, with the number of people over 60 accounting for 20% of the total population.
However, Dr Wichai ruled out the possibility that the new regulations would be retroactive, saying the revised regulations, if approved, will be applied only to newcomers.
He mentioned the possibility that the poverty line could be used as a base for deciding who are poor and can then have access to state allowance, without giving further details.
The living allowance for the elderly, which was adopted by the Abhisit Vejjajiva government, is currently paid in progressive rates: people aged 60-69 receive a 600-baht monthly allowance, and those in the 70-79 age range get 700 baht a month, those aged 80-89 get 800 baht while 90 and older get 1,000 baht a month.
The figures are already meagre.
State welfare advocates are right in opposing the proposal which is backpedalling from a better welfare system.
Some elements within the state have regarded the living allowances for the elderly, nearly 100 billion baht a year for some 11 million pensioners, as a gigantic budget burden for the government.
However, Nimitr Tian-udom, coordinator of the Welfare Watch Network, pointed out that the government has to pay out much more to retired state officials -- about 400 billion baht per year. That's about four times more than what is put aside for the elderly.
More importantly, there is also a discrepancy in the country's health care system among those under the so-called universal health coverage, state pensioners and members of the Social Security Fund.
The cost per head of those under the state retirement scheme is much higher than those in the universal healthcare coverage.
The government should look for ways to close the gap in health care and the living conditions of Thailand's elderly.
The government has the moral obligation to observe the people's basic rights by strengthening the country's welfare. This new proposal would only do the opposite and it should be dropped.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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