Working for an integrated and inclusive social protection system in Thailand

Project team members

As part of a United Nations Joint Programme (UNJP) between the Royal Thai Government (RTG) and United Nations agencies titled ‘Social Protection for All in Thailand – Accelerating Progress Towards an Integrated and Modernised Social Protection System for All in Thailand’, a comprehensive independent review has been carried out of the Thailand social protection system. This is known as the Social Protection Diagnostic Review (SPDR).

The SPDR includes studies on areas such as the current landscape of social protection and the poverty/vulnerability within the population; the potential for expanding social protection to cover informal workers; the gender impact of social protection; access to social protection for migrant workers; the pension system; and the fiscal dimension and budgeting for social protection, including the development of a social budgeting model for Thailand. The SPDR aims to facilitate the generation of a sectoral reform agenda that promotes a more inclusive, integrated and coherent social protection system in Thailand.


Thailand has significantly reduced poverty in the last 20 years: from 20% living under the national poverty line a decade ago, to 8.4% in 2019. However, poverty has recently started to increase, with household incomes and consumption growth stalling nationwide and consequent declines in welfare. Despite this, today poverty is largely concentrated in specific marginalised groups, such as particular ethnic groups (e.g. Karen) and certain categories of the population, such as persons with disabilities. Geographically, the highest poverty rates are found in the Southern region, while rural areas have higher poverty than urban ones.

There is a high level of informality and vulnerable forms of employment in the Thai labour market. Over half the labour force work in informal sector or households. The majority of workers are not covered by social protection. While more than half are own-account workers or contributing family workers.  

Thailand’s Constitution explicitly provides for numerous aspects of social protection, and social protection is also firmly embedded in national development plans which commit Thailand to ensuring all Thai people have access to adequate social protection. This high-level commitment is matched by an array of social protection provisions, with close to universal health and education services; extensive contributory and non-contributory functional benefits; mature public institutions and high organisational capacity and strong infrastructure across the service delivery chain.

However, the various programmes that comprise the sector operate under different ministries with numerous stakeholders involved in the design and delivery of different policies, resulting in a social protection sector that lacks coherence, and which is not integrated. There are also several acknowledged gaps in terms of coverage and adequacy, as well as sustainability challenges with regard to financing social protection in the future. Therefore, a sectoral reform agenda is needed to promote a more coherent, inclusive, integrated, and sustainable social protection system in Thailand.

Our approach

The overarching analytical framework for the SPDR is an adapted version of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Social Protection System Review framework that assesses the Thailand social protection sector across five dimensions: need, coverage, effectiveness, sustainability, and coherence. The scope of the SPDR covers both contributory and non-contributory social protection schemes that are administered nationwide and that make up the majority share of social protection coverage and spending, including: the Social Security Fund; the Civil Service Benefits Scheme; the Universal healthcare Coverage Scheme; the Child Support Grant; the Disability Grant; the Old-Age Allowance; and the State Welfare Card, among others.

The SPDR studies were conducted following a mixed methods approach, including: conducting a desk review of the policy and legislative framework and the broader literature; quantitative analysis of both administrative data and national survey data (e.g. the 2019 Socioeconomic Survey and the 2018 and 2019 Informal Economy Survey); and conducting key informant interviews with government and non-government stakeholders. We produced a series of analytical background papers, followed by a policy dialogue and consultation exercise including the Royal Thai Government and UN partners.

The background papers developed by us include:

  1. Thailand Social Protection Mapping and Vulnerability Analysis
  2. Child-sensitive social protection in Thailand
  3. Expanding access to social security for all workers in Thailand (focus particularly on the extension of coverage to workers in informal employment)
  4. Social protection for migrant workers and their families in Thailand
  5. Social protection gender-impact assessment

Outcomes and wider impacts

The main objective of SDPR is to generate a set of policy recommendations for a more inclusive, integrated and coherent social protection system in Thailand, including fiscal implications, which cohere with the RTG’s wider social-economic development goals and inform the strengthening of a national vision for social protection in the years ahead. The SDPR has informed the ongoing national policy debate regarding the evolution of the social protection system in Thailand including directly influencing reforms to the value and integration of social security and social assistance benefits.

We would like to thank Fred Merttens, and Chris Rayment for their contribution to this study.

Photo credit: Unsplash

Area of expertise