Facing up to inequality

Facing up to inequality

No government policy can truly achieve sustainable development if it fails to effectively address the underlying issue of inequality.

Thailand has grappled with a populist trap in recent years, where policies aimed at gaining popularity have led to significant budget allocations towards superficial endeavours rather than holistic solutions.

Both the National Economic and Social Development Council (NESDC) and the World Bank have underscored Thailand's deep-seated economic and educational inequalities, which pose substantial obstacles to the country's long-term competitiveness and sustainability.

Their recommendation for the government is clear -- it must implement policies that genuinely tackle these disparities. Danucha Pichayanan, secretary-general of NESDC, identifies poverty and inequality as major impediments to economic and social progress. Despite a decline in overall poverty over the past few decades, a persistent segment of the population remains trapped below the poverty line and has done so for generations.

While progress has been made in reducing inequality, the problem remains worrying. One thing the government can do is create more and well-paying jobs for citizens to advance in life, Mr Danucha said.

Policymakers should look into the latest World Bank's report, "Bridging the Gap: Inequality and Jobs in Thailand," which identifies various structural problems that lead to inequality. Fabrizio Zarcone, the World Bank country manager in Thailand, points to disparities in education access and skills, low farm incomes, an ageing population, and escalating household debt as formidable challenges in addressing inequality.

Though the impact of Covid-19 on poverty and inequality was somewhat moderate, the long tail of the Covid-19 pandemic is still hampering education and caused household debts.

Factors like Thailand's increasing cost of living and a dwindling working-age population further complicate efforts to narrow the inequality gap. To mitigate these challenges, the World Bank's report suggests the government provide substantial support to vulnerable groups to cope with inflation and climate change impacts.

The concerns raised by these economic agencies regarding inequality must be a focal point for government policies. The Srettha administration's proposed digital wallet scheme initially aimed to allocate 10,000 baht to approximately 55 million people above the age of 16.

However, amid criticism, the government has revised the eligibility criteria based on income and bank deposits, reducing the number eligible to 50 million individuals.

This revision unveiled stark inequality figures that only about 5 million people in the country earn more than 70,000 baht a month or hold more than 500,000 baht in bank deposits, leaving over 50 million without such financial means. This staggering contrast underscores the depth of economic disparity among the population.

In terms of education, the latest English Proficiency Index (EPI) exposes Thailand's low proficiency compared to its Southeast Asian counterparts, placing it at the lower spectrum globally.

While the government has initiated promising policies, such as promoting foreign investment in electric vehicles and molding Thailand as a duty-free paradise, these initiatives only risk exacerbating inequality if they neglect to address its core foundations.

Editorial

Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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