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  • 29 April, 2021

  • 5 Min Read

Universal Social Welfare

Universal Social Welfare


  • The country witnessed multiple crises during Covid-19: mass inter- and intra-migration, food insecurity, and a crumbling health infrastructure.
  • Covid-19 has pushed an estimated 75 million people in India into poverty.
  • The second wave has brought even the middle and upper-class citizens to their knees.
  • Economic capital, in the absence of social capital, has proven to be insufficient in accessing healthcare facilities.
  • Illness is universal, but healthcare is not.

Absorbing shocks

  • The country has over 500 direct benefit transfer schemes for which various Central, State, and Line departments are responsible.
  • However, these schemes have not reached those in need.
  • The pandemic has revealed that leveraging our existing schemes and providing universal social security is of utmost importance.
  • This will help absorb the impact of external shocks on our vulnerable populations.

Poor Law System

  • An example of such a social protection scheme is the Poor Law System in Ireland.
  • In the 19th century, Ireland, a country that was staggering under the weight of poverty and famine, introduced the Poor Law System to provide relief that was financed by local property taxes.
  • These laws were notable for not only providing timely assistance but maintaining the dignity and respectability of the poor while doing so.
  • Today, the social welfare system in Ireland has evolved into a four-fold apparatus that promises:
    • social insurance,
    • social assistance,
    • universal schemes, and
    • extra benefits/supplements.

India’s successful social security scheme:

  • We have seen an example of a universal healthcare programme that India ran successfully — the Pulse Polio Universal Immunisation Programme.
    • In 2014, India was declared polio-free.
  • With the advancements in knowledge and technology, a universal coverage of social welfare is possible in a shorter time frame.

Need for universal social welfare programme

  • Existing schemes cover a wide variety of social protections but are fractionalised across various departments and sub-schemes.
    • This causes problems beginning with data collection to last-mile delivery.
  • Having a universal system would improve the ease of application by consolidating the data of all eligible beneficiaries under one database.
    • It can also reduce exclusion errors.
  • The Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY) is one scheme that can be strengthened into universal social security.
    • It already consolidates the public distribution system (PDS), the provision of gas cylinders, and wages for the MGNREGS.
  • Having a universal scheme would take away this access/exclusion barrier.
    • For example, PDS can be linked to a universal identification card such as the Aadhaar or voter card, in the absence of a ration card.
    • This would allow anyone who is in need of foodgrains to access these schemes.
    • It would be especially useful for migrant populations.
    • Making other schemes/welfare provisions like education, maternity benefits, disability benefits etc. also universal would ensure a better standard of living for the people.

Steps to be taken for Universal social welfare:

  • To ensure some of these issues are addressed, we need to map the State and Central schemes in a consolidated manner.
    • This is to avoid duplication, inclusion and exclusion errors in welfare delivery.
  • Alongside, a study to understand costs of welfare access for vulnerable groups can be conducted.
    • This will help give a targeted way forward.
  • The implementation of any of these ideas is only possible through a focus on data digitisation, data-driven decision-making and collaboration across government departments.

Source: TH

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