Low-income baby grants scheme needs fine-tuning

Chayathorn Termariyabuit

In its attempt to eradicate poverty from Thailand, the Prayut Chano-cha government has come up with a number of aid schemes for the poor. One of them is the child support grant – a programme that provides a subsidy as basic welfare for newborn babies from poor families or households considered at risk of being poor. The main purpose is to ensure that they receive decent care leading to highquality child development.

Initially, the policy provided a monthly allowance of 400 baht for one year for each newborn baby from an eligible family born during the period of October 2015 to September 2016.

Later, the government realised the importance of the policy and increased the monthly subsidy to 600 baht while extending the coverage period from one year to three years for babies born since October 2016.

Since the programme aims to help the poor, a targeting system needs to be introduced so the grant goes to the right people.

In the 2016 fiscal year, the government set criteria requiring that eligible babies must live in households with income per capita of less than 3,000 baht per month and must posses at least one of the four conditions of the Proxy Means Test (PMT).

The first PMT condition is a single parent or a household with a dependency such as disabled persons, children younger than 15 years old, and unemployed people aged 15 to 65 years.

The second condition is a household with poor and deteriorating housing conditions. The third is a household without a personal car, truck or small van. The last one is a farming family having less than 1 rai of agricultural land.

Despite the clear criteria being set, the project seems to have encountered inclusion and exclusion errors when it comes to registering entitled families.

Inclusion errors happen when households that do not fall under the criteria have been registered for the grant.

In the 2016 fiscal year, there were 208,807 babies registered for the grant while the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, which implements the project, estimated there would be only 128,000 of them.
The errors were caused by various factors including the application and approval process for the grant.

Misunderstandings about eligibility for the grant played a role in causing the errors. In some cases, many women were not aware of the criteria but thought they would be eligible if they have a child.

Some mothers applied even though they knew that they were not poor and were not eligible. This happened because there is no penalty imposed on them if they get caught, and the worst case for them is simply not getting the money.

What makes matters worse is the state registration process. Officials tend to proceed with registering any applicants for the grant even though they are not certain whether they meet the criteria.

In some cases, officials even encouraged mothers to apply for the grant regardless of their eligibility.

Meanwhile, exclusion errors happen when eligible households do not register for the grant or registered but were not granted it. One estimate reveals the size of exclusion error might be about 20%, meaning that 20 out of 100 eligible babies did not receive the grant.

Similar to the inclusion errors, exclusion errors were also made during the application and approval processes. Misunderstanding about eligibility by either officials or families has excluded some families from the programme.

Local transportation costs can also exacerbate the problem. Those living in remote areas who lack knowledge of the criteria might decide not to travel to a state office to apply in the event as the travel cost outweighs the subsidy value.

Delays in payments to existing participants can discourage new eligible mothers from registering for the grant. However, an early study shows the programme benefits recipients, who tend to spend the money on food supplements, powdered milk and nappies for their babies. Some keep the subsidy to save towards the education and health care of their children. There is only rare evidence of money being misused.

To maximise the benefits of the programme, some improvements are needed. Promoting awareness among state officials involved, poverty targeting research and household status certification will improve the programme and prevent those who are not eligible from participating.

Collaboration between state and public agencies can also develop a better targeting system. For instance, state officials, community volunteers and social workers can work together to make sure every eligible baby receives the grant.

They can do this by taking field trips to meet pregnant women and those with newborn babies and encourage them to apply for the subsidy. A better targeting system is also needed since it will make the programme more inclusive, resulting in effective poverty alleviation and a society with equal opportunities.

Chayathorn Termariyabuit is a researcher at the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI). Policy analyses from the TDRI appear in the Bangkok Post on alternate Wednesdays.

The article is first published in Bangkok Post on Wednesday, February 14, 2018.