7 PM Editorial |Providing Universal Social Security| 9th July 2020

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Providing Universal Social Security


COVID 19 has brought economic hardship to billions of working class. It is more conspicuous in case of migrant labour in India. Faced with declining savings and lack of incomes, they faced hunger and homelessness. In absence of social security and weak state support, they were forced to migrate back to their native places.

Such is the situation of nearly 90% of Indian labour force who are in the informal sector(casual labour, agricultural labour, self employed). They face uncertain incomes, lack job security and lack social security. Only 10% of the labour force in organized sector have social security in form of insurance, EPF(provident fund), pensions.

Considering this there is a need for provision of universal social security as provided in Article 41 of directive principles. Article says that within the limits of its economic capacity, the State would provide “public assistance in cases of unemployment, old age, sickness, disablement, and in other cases of undeserved want.

Social security code introduced in parliament is a right step. Such legislation must enable a progressive social security within financial and administrative capacities.

Designing universal social security for labour force:

Features that must be present are:

  • Employment guarantee: MGNREGA is currently acting as a tool of providing relief to distressed rural workers. Demand for work under it has doubled in many states. It shows how it is an effective social security tool which works based on self selection. Such employment guarantee schemes will provide incomes and reduce vulnerability to uncertain jobs in the informal sector.
    • Hence it must be extended to urban areas. Works such as sanitation, minor repairs, could productively use labour under such employment schemes. This is a win win situation as urban areas can create requisite infrastructure which is currently lacking.
  • Linking skill training to employment guarantee schemes: “Learning while earning” principle should be employed to build up human capital of India. Schemes like MGNREGA must be linked to skill development training. This can address skilled labour shortages in MSME’s and agriculture. This has been a successful approach of governments and employers in Germany and Japanwhere useful skills are learnt on the job, supplemented with off-line modules.
  • Universal free health care: Limitations of private health care in serving the poor is discernible in the ongoing pandemic. Hence there is a need for quality universal free public health care.
    • Universal insurance coverage must be provided. Currently less than 20% have insurance
    • Physical infrastructure – beds,ICU’s, etc – in public hospitals must be built up
    • Availability of Doctors, nurses, experts(surgeon etc) must be improved
    • Rural – urban divide in healthcare must be bridged
    • Digital technologies, telemedicine, pharmacy chains of generic drugs and greater use of trained nurses and paramedics can improve health care and lower costs dramatically
    • Promotion of healthier lifestyles to emphasize prevention of diseases.
  • Addressing technology induced job disruptions: COVID 19 will result in increased adoption of technology over physical labour. This has to be factored in designing universal social security
    • Automation and robots will displace low skilled jobs. Wealth generated by doing so need to be redistributed through universal basic incomes financed by  new taxes like robot tax
    • Gig economy has no employee-employer relationship. Considering this social security for such employees must be provided through labour laws.

Income support, skilling and health care for all those who need it must be an essential part of universal social security. Apart from the labour force, vulnerable sections like disabled, the elderly, and expectant mothers must be provided social security assistance. Only through that can India realize the welfare state as envisaged in the constitution.


Mains Question:
  1. Social security is an essential part of a welfare state. In the context of COVID 19 pandemic, what should such social security entail? What step has India taken to provide social security to its citizens? [15 marks, 250 words]
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