How society's poorest families suffer and survive amidst Covid-19
Suthat Namgasa is relieved to discover he still has one packet of instant noodles in his relief bag. He will eat tonight, but he has no idea how he will find the money to pay the next instalment on his taxi.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the 51-year-old taxi driver has stopped working. He was simply wasting his time and fuel driving his taxi around Bangkok, as fewer and fewer people were travelling around the city. He was earning less than 100 baht per day, and sometimes as little as 50 baht per day.
"I still have no idea how I'll handle it," he said.
Suthat was not eligible for the government's 5,000 baht scheme, a cash-transfer programme for informal-sector workers affected by the outbreak, because his name is listed as a farmer after his parents'. Countless low-income workers are in the same situation, with difficulties registering for the cash handout because of their family's registration.
The little money he earned did not even cover his daily meals, his rent, or the last four months of installments on his taxi -- 72,000 baht. He has no way of feeding and meeting the needs of his five-year-old granddaughter, Nadia, for whom he cares full-time. Her mother and stepfather work in the Northeast of Thailand.
After seven weeks of lockdown and strict measures in place to contain the spread of the coronavirus, Thailand has seen a steady decline in infections, with zero cases in many provinces in recent weeks. No one can deny that the lockdown, which has forced people to stay home, was a necessary step in containing the disease that has wreaked havoc in almost every country of the world. But for millions of people, working from home is simply not possible. Without work, they cannot feed their families, leaving many children with inadequate nutrition and in precarious situations.
Before the lockdown, life had been manageable for Suthat, who would leave Nadia at a nursery operated by the Foundation for Slum Child Care in his neighbourhood. Every morning he would bring her to the child care centre and give her breakfast before starting his day driving his taxi, confident that Nadia was in good hands for the next eight hours. On weekends when the nursery was closed, Nadia would sit in the front seat of the taxi with her grandfather as he worked.
The government's 600 baht Child Support Grant, a social protection payment offered to poor families with children under six years old, combined with his daily income of around 300-500 baht, allowed Suthat to pay for Nadia's day care, under which she was given breakfast, lunch and milk. He was also able to cover his granddaughter's other needs.
However, the child care centre is closed for now, and with no income Suthat cannot properly feed the young girl. Suthat had no choice but to send his granddaughter to stay with her mother and stepfather, hoping their living conditions would be better.