Folk in capital struggling to stay afloat

Folk in capital struggling to stay afloat

As Bangkok enters world's top 50 most expensive cities, residents bear the brunt

Slowdown: Even though the government has tried to stimulate spending, business in Bangkok's Chinatown remains tepid.
Slowdown: Even though the government has tried to stimulate spending, business in Bangkok's Chinatown remains tepid.

The recent global cost of living survey sees Bangkok for the first time among the top 50 most expensive cities in the world due to the baht's appreciation.

The index was announced in December last year by ECA International, which publishes cost-of-living data for over 480 cities around the world to help companies calculate proper allowances for their employees working abroad.

Bangkok has leapt 43 places to 47th while its Asean counterpart Singapore ranks 13th. Ashgabat, Tokyo, and Zurich are the priciest cities in the world respectively.

In line with the findings, people on the street interviewed by the Bangkok Post lamented that the city is becoming increasingly unaffordable.

HARD TO MAKE ENDS MEETS

Wutthipong Lertchaipat, a 22-year-old graduate, said it is tough for him to make ends meet, not to mention save money on his monthly wage of 18,000 baht.

"The city's cost of living has gone out of hand. While one-third of [my salary] goes on accommodation, the rest comprises 400 baht for daily expenses, which include fares of more than 100 baht. It is difficult for those who are unemployed now the economic slowdown has forced companies to slash job offers. How can they survive?"

His sister, Jiraphorn Lertchaipat, a project coordinator, 28, echoed the views of her brother, especially when it comes to transport.

"BTS and MRT fares should be more affordable. I have no choice but to use them and I have to pay an average fare of almost 100 baht to travel back and forth between Mor Chit and Siam each day," she said.

Pattarika Aoi-Un, a 29-year-old kindergarten teacher, said city residents have no choice but to spend their hard-earned salaries on public transport if they don't own a car.

"I think the BTS and MRT should adopt a rate at 25 baht for all stations and distances," she said.

Ms Pattarika said she wanted the government to look into the rising costs of living for the middle class to help the working-age population build a secure and sustainable life in the city.

"It is difficult for our generation to make lives for ourselves, not to mention acquire property or even build our own businesses. We are just trying to make ends meet day in and day out, and we are struggling to keep our heads above water," she added.

Natthapat Wangvanichaphan, a freelance magazine writer, 28, complained higher costs of living don't bring with them a better quality of life.

She said she feels ripped off every time she uses mass transit.

"I had to pay more than 100 baht each day to commute to work. Now I am driving my own car I find that it saves me a lot of money. But having said that, people should have equal access to affordable, reliable public transport so they can channel their energy into other activities," she said.

Ms Natthapat said the government should create a level playing field for its citizens by providing standard infrastructure and reducing business monopolies.

"[Financially] I feel like I'm hanging off a cliff and might fall some day. Poverty is not a case of what goes around comes around, but a structural problem."

SENIOR WELFARE

The soaring cost of living has taken its toll on people from all walks of life, including the elderly. Nookai Daengpoomee, a shopkeeper, 68, said the poor are the hardest hit.

"Without money in our pockets, we have to keep our needs in check, but my medicines are very expensive. I wish the government would solve bread-and-butter problems more efficiently," she said.

Ms Nookai is entitled to the government's welfare scheme, but she said it does not help low-income people in the long term because they simply withdraw cash to buy consumer goods.

Thanawan Srimonta, a fruit vendor, 66, said the Chim, Shop, Chai (taste, shop, spend) campaign, an attempt to stimulate the economy, only had a short-term effect.

"I only get few hundred baht to spend, but the problem is that people are tightening their belts. I sell less fruit than I did five years ago," she said.

Meanwhile, Lek Saetiao, a street vendor, 75, said the recession and unemployment are to blame for stifling consumption.

"I sell fewer herbal ointments even though I get the best location behind the bus stop free of charge. I wish the premier knew how to run the country," he said.

When asked what would be an ideal New Year's gift, he asked the government to expand the welfare scheme for the elderly.

"After all, it is better than nothing," he added.

COMPARATIVE POVERTY

Boonlert Visetpricha, a lecturer on anthropology at Thammasat University, said poverty in Thailand is undergoing a transformation.

The number of people living below the poverty line might be fewer, but "comparative poverty" has intensified over the years.

"The increase in the quality of life of the poor is smaller than that for the mid- and upper classes. Many people realise that even though they can access basic needs, they know that those in the upper echelon get more and live more comfortably. So what Thailand is experiencing is a sense of discontent from economic inequality, not purely poverty, because poverty in absolute terms has been more or less reduced," he told the Bangkok Post.

Mr Boonlert warned that it is not only poor people who feel the impact of higher costs of living and comparative poverty.

"In my experience, 20 years ago, I could pay for a small condo in instalments. But I cannot do it now because its price has gone up unreasonably," said Mr Boonlert, an expert on urban poverty and settlement.

The government, he said, is facing an uphill battle to reduce inequality and unreasonable rising living costs.

Mr Boonlert wondered whether the same old-style economic stimulus plans that governments have traditionally relied on can tackle what has become a structural problem.

"Most economic stimulus packages are a quick-fix to push up economic figures and stimulate spending.

"However, structural inequality will remain and deepen as long as the government fails to generate new jobs and eradicate poverty in the long run," he said.


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