Opinion: The Poor Are Getting Poorer and That’s a Ticking Time Bomb

A slum along Khlong Prem Prachakon in Bangkok on Sept. 10, 2022.
A slum along Khlong Prem Prachakon in Bangkok on Sept. 10, 2022.

The recent increased price of instant noodle from six to seven baht per pack was nothing short of a big blow for working-class Thais, particularly poor people, who lead hand to mouth existence.

Tens of millions of poor Thais rely on instant noodles as their sustenance and while one baht price-rise may be negligible to the middle-class Thais, it’s definitely not the case for poor people as it constitutes a rise of 16 percent while the minimum wage’s raise set by the government was just around five percent.

For millions of Thais, being poor is a destiny with little light at the end of the tunnel, particularly if you are born poor. Given the current economic situation, with high inflation pushing prices of not just instant noodle, rice and eggs and beyond, and divisive political situation, it means expecting any insignificant improvement is more like a pipedream.

As many as 8.34 million people (out of the total population of around 70 million) applied of a so-called “poor’s card,” formally the government’s welfare card, to alleviate their financial hardship within the first five days of the registration which began on Monday.

Millions more are expected to register in the weeks ahead until the deadline on Oct 19. These people must meet a number of criteria including earning no more than 100,000 baht per annum and owning no apartment beyond the size of 35 square meters.

Transportation wise, for those in Bangkok and the vicinity, it’s the old public bus and vans. On Wednesday night, many were stranded waiting for hours for a van to return to their apartment and resident in the fringe of Bangkok and the surrounding provinces due to heavy rain and flood.

Meanwhile, BTS and MRT are not really mass transit in the very fundamental sense as their price is beyond the regular reach of many of the working class. Prices start at over twenty-baht one way, a round-trip will easily cost 80 baht or over 20 percent of minimum wage of 353 for Bangkok and vicinity.

Buying a tiny condominium room means a decade or two of mortgage paying and often too small to house more than two persons.

Given the situation, economic issues will become increasingly paramount in the upcoming elections. On the other hand, a hand-to-mouth existence means poor people will have less time to be politically active and even think about politics.

It’s unclear whether poverty will induce more Thais to become politically active, to push for change, for a more effective and able government that is responsive to their needs and able to revive the Thai economy or simply resigned themselves to poverty, debt and destitution.

It’s now clear that poverty eradication will be a major issue confronting Thailand for years to come and the ever more shopping malls, high-rise and posh condominiums and fancy restaurants a reminder of the stark inequality that is Thailand today. The poor are getting poorer and that’s a ticking time bomb facing Thailand.