Alternatives to social security: universal and targeted social protection schemes

Given high rates of informality in the Thai labour market, the government has had to find alternatives to providing social protection outside of employment arrangements. Some of the protections are targeted at special populations, including a disability allowance, an HIV/AIDS allowance and a recently established cash card (commonly known as the “poor card”) for low-income households. Since we are most interested in protections normally provided within formal work arrangements, we briefly summarise the two most important universal social protection programmes in Thailand covering health and old age. These programmes are specifically designed for the informally employed and family members who fall outside of formal schemes.

The National Health Security Act B.E. 2545 (2002) established the Universal Health Care System (UHCS), also commonly known as the “30 baht scheme.” This scheme is administered by the National Health Security Office and it aims to provide healthcare services to individuals not covered by the civil servant medical benefits scheme, social security scheme or other schemes provided by the government. Any Thai citizen with a 13-digit national identification number has the right to avail this service through a local service provider. Therefore, this provision significantly alleviates the financial burden related to medical services for informal workers and those with relatively low income. The scheme is financed by tax revenue to provide for various medical benefits, including outpatient and inpatient treatments, maternity care, birth delivery, dental care and emergency care (Schmitt et al., 2013, 10). The implementation of the UHCS in Thailand has made a significant contribution to expanding the state’s healthcare provision at a national level. Due to this universal scheme, nearly 100 per cent of the Thai population has health coverage (National Statistical Office of Thailand, 2019).

The Thai government also provides a universal pension to those who do not qualify for pensions under other government schemes. The Universal Noncontributory Allowance for the Elderly was established by the Old Age Act B.E. 2546 (2003), but it came into effect only in 2009. Under this scheme, Thai nationals who (1) are 60 years and above, (2) have registered and applied for the old- age allowance at their local government office, (3) have their domicile registered in the local government district in which they applied for the allowance, and (4) receive no other old-age benefits provided by the government. The allowance ranges from 600 to 1,000 baht and is based on age (Schmitt et al., 2013, 11). In 2018, there are 8,408,498 elderly persons receiving allowance (National Economic and Social Development Council, 2019).

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