Thailand: 10% still below poverty line

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More than one tenth of the Thai population is still living below the poverty line even though the country’s GDP would be high enough to eliminate poverty completely, an audience of a seminar held by Oxfam in Bangkok earlier this week was told.

Oxfam, an international confederation of charitable organisations focused on the alleviation of global poverty, said that the number of poor people has been reduced in the past, but the gap between rich and poor has widened dramatically, to an extent that Thailand now ranks the world’s third most unequal nation after Russia and India.

The poverty line is defined by the World Bank as $1.90 per day. Thailand’s nationally defined poverty line is even below that at around 52 baht per day. While poverty has declined substantially over the last 30 years from 67 per cent in 1986 to 8.1 per cent in 2009, it swung back during the Asian economic crisis, where poverty increased to 17 per cent in 1996 to 18.8 per cent in 1998 to 21.3 per cent in 2000, it was down again to around 11 per cent in 2015 and to 10.9 per cent in 2016.

In turn, in the past seven years, the number of billionaires in Thailand rose from five to 28 persons.

Poverty in Thailand is primarily a rural phenomenon which can be illustrated by the large differences in average salary of about 45,000 baht per month in Bangkok and industrialised areas of Chonburi and below 25,000 baht in the North and Northeast and the Deep South, regions where also the most people under the poverty line can be found. The official minimum salary is between 300 and 310 baht per day, depending on the province.

To tackle inequality, both the public and private sectors should lend a hand, he said, adding a higher progressive tax rate should be levied, while education, healthcare and wages should also be improved, Chakchai Chomthongdee, Oxfam representative in Thailand, said.

Long-term economic aspirations to address the problems of poverty and inequality are laid out in Thailand’s recent 20-year strategic plan for attaining developed country status through broad reforms. They focus on economic stability, human capital, equal economic opportunities, environmental sustainability, competitiveness, and effective government bureaucracies.

Progress on reforms has already been made. These include the implementation of multi-year large public infrastructure projects, setting up of a State Enterprise Policy Committee to improve state-owned enterprise governance, transfer of supervisory oversight of specialised financial institutions to the Bank of Thailand, approval of progressive inheritance and property taxes and the launch of the National Savings Fund, a retirement safety net for informal workers.

Going forward, the sustained pace and quality of reforms as well as sound implementation will be crucial for translating the reform effort into the desired economic outcomes. Continued reforms in additional areas such as education and competition as well as public infrastructure management and government bureaucracies will be particularly important.

Within Southeast Asia, countries with the most people living below the poverty line are Myanmar (25.6 per cent), Philippines (25.2 per cent) and Laos (23.2 per cent).

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More than one tenth of the Thai population is still living below the poverty line even though the country's GDP would be high enough to eliminate poverty completely, an audience of a seminar held by Oxfam in Bangkok earlier this week was told. Oxfam, an international confederation of charitable organisations focused on the alleviation of global poverty, said that the number of poor people has been reduced in the past, but the gap between rich and poor has widened dramatically, to an extent that Thailand now ranks the world's third most unequal nation after Russia and India. The poverty line...

Reading Time: 2 minutes

More than one tenth of the Thai population is still living below the poverty line even though the country’s GDP would be high enough to eliminate poverty completely, an audience of a seminar held by Oxfam in Bangkok earlier this week was told.

Oxfam, an international confederation of charitable organisations focused on the alleviation of global poverty, said that the number of poor people has been reduced in the past, but the gap between rich and poor has widened dramatically, to an extent that Thailand now ranks the world’s third most unequal nation after Russia and India.

The poverty line is defined by the World Bank as $1.90 per day. Thailand’s nationally defined poverty line is even below that at around 52 baht per day. While poverty has declined substantially over the last 30 years from 67 per cent in 1986 to 8.1 per cent in 2009, it swung back during the Asian economic crisis, where poverty increased to 17 per cent in 1996 to 18.8 per cent in 1998 to 21.3 per cent in 2000, it was down again to around 11 per cent in 2015 and to 10.9 per cent in 2016.

In turn, in the past seven years, the number of billionaires in Thailand rose from five to 28 persons.

Poverty in Thailand is primarily a rural phenomenon which can be illustrated by the large differences in average salary of about 45,000 baht per month in Bangkok and industrialised areas of Chonburi and below 25,000 baht in the North and Northeast and the Deep South, regions where also the most people under the poverty line can be found. The official minimum salary is between 300 and 310 baht per day, depending on the province.

To tackle inequality, both the public and private sectors should lend a hand, he said, adding a higher progressive tax rate should be levied, while education, healthcare and wages should also be improved, Chakchai Chomthongdee, Oxfam representative in Thailand, said.

Long-term economic aspirations to address the problems of poverty and inequality are laid out in Thailand’s recent 20-year strategic plan for attaining developed country status through broad reforms. They focus on economic stability, human capital, equal economic opportunities, environmental sustainability, competitiveness, and effective government bureaucracies.

Progress on reforms has already been made. These include the implementation of multi-year large public infrastructure projects, setting up of a State Enterprise Policy Committee to improve state-owned enterprise governance, transfer of supervisory oversight of specialised financial institutions to the Bank of Thailand, approval of progressive inheritance and property taxes and the launch of the National Savings Fund, a retirement safety net for informal workers.

Going forward, the sustained pace and quality of reforms as well as sound implementation will be crucial for translating the reform effort into the desired economic outcomes. Continued reforms in additional areas such as education and competition as well as public infrastructure management and government bureaucracies will be particularly important.

Within Southeast Asia, countries with the most people living below the poverty line are Myanmar (25.6 per cent), Philippines (25.2 per cent) and Laos (23.2 per cent).

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