Welfare rules need review

Welfare rules need review

Last week, Social Development and Human Security Minister Varawut Silpa-archa announced the expansion of welfare programmes to benefit newborns, the elderly and the disabled. While experts welcomed the push, it was certainly overdue.

Furthermore, it showed a flawed understanding of the problem with the nation's welfare programme. The issue isn't the amount of funds available. It is about access -- over half of the nation's disabled do not qualify to receive welfare support due to the government's narrow definition of disability.

According to the National Statistics Office, there are about 4.19 million people living with disabilities in Thailand, or about 6% of the population. That said, only 42.6% of those possess a concession card, which is required to access welfare assistance and the 800-baht monthly support for disabled individuals.

The reason over half of the nation's disabled do not have access to state welfare programmes tailored to help them out is the extremely restrictive official definition of disability, according to the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI).

At present, the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security recognises seven types of disabilities, namely mobility problems, hearing impairment, visual impairment, physical handicaps, psychological disorders, autism, and learning disabilities.

However, the criteria to qualify for a concession card, which these individuals need to access welfare support, are extremely limiting. As a result, many people with disabilities are turned away when they apply for a concession card simply because they don't fit into the government's idea of what a disabled person should be, said TDRI researcher Phakphum Jatupitpornchan.

For example, individuals who have lost sight or hearing in one eye or ear are not legally considered a disabled person, regardless of the impact their condition has on their ability to function.

The problem lies with the assumption which informs the official perception of disability -- the criteria are based on the assumption that a disabled person is helpless due to their physical limitation. They also place a heavy emphasis on the medical definition of disability without taking into account the social and economic aspects of the issue.

The solution is simple -- the government needs to expand the criteria to accommodate a broader spectrum of disabilities. This may require the creation of new disability categories to cover those currently excluded from assistance.

The assessment processes must also be revised to take into account individuals' unique circumstances and the barriers they face to fully participating in society.

Thailand should adopt standardised criteria certified by the World Health Organization, which reflect a holistic understanding of individuals' needs.

Additionally, public awareness campaigns are essential to combat stigma and promote inclusivity. This effort must begin with the government itself.

Reform requires substantial time and resources, but it is imperative to end the needless suffering of millions of disabled individuals in the country who lack access to the assistance they are entitled to due to bureaucratic barriers. State inaction means the government itself is violating the constitution, which enshrines the rights of vulnerable individuals and prohibits all forms of discrimination against disabled people. This grave injustice for disabled people must end now.

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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