India needs to Focus on Universal Social Scheme

Synopsis:

The pandemic has exposed the vulnerabilities of India’s Universal social welfare. The country failed to provide adequate social welfare services to the marginalized during the pandemic times. This calls for focusing on universal social welfare.

Background:
  • The Covid-19 pandemic struck the country in 2020 and brutally impacted the lives of the Indian masses especially the marginalized community.
  • The pandemic followed a series of crises including mass inter and intra-migration, food insecurity, and crumbling health infrastructure.
  • This has induced some experts to demand universal social welfare from the government.

What is Universal Social Welfare / Social Security?

  • According to the International Labour Organisation, Social security is the protection that society provides to individuals and households: 
    • To ensure access to health care and to guarantee income security; particularly in cases of old age, unemployment, sickness, invalidity, etc.
  • Giving such protection to every individual in the country is called Universal Social Welfare.
Need of Universal Social Welfare:
  • Vulnerability of masses: The pandemic has enhanced the vulnerability of masses as:
      • It has pushed an estimated 75 million people into poverty.
      • The second wave has shown even money is not enough to access health care services. It has brought even the middle and upper-class citizens to their knees.
  • Poor performance of Social Welfare schemes: The country has over 500 direct benefit transfer schemes but still many weren’t able to get desired benefits during the pandemic.
      • The schemes are fractionalized across various departments and sub-schemes. This causes problems on every stage of the scheme from data collection to last-mile delivery.
  • Better results: India’s Pulse Polio Universal Immunisation Programme helped it to become polio-free in 2014. This shows the country has the potential to run universal programs and achieve better results.
  • Avoiding Inclusion/Exclusion errors: Universal system will encompass every individual and household in the country thereby tackling the problem of inclusion/exclusion.
    • For instance, 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 especially the migrant populations.
  • Improved Living Standard: Access to education, maternity benefits, disability benefits, etc. social benefits would ensure a better standard of living for the people.
Way Forward:
  • The government should map the State and Central schemes in a consolidated manner. This would avoid duplication, inclusion, and exclusion errors in delivering welfare services.
    • For instance, Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY) can be strengthened into universal social security. 
    • It already consolidates the public distribution system (PDS), the provision of gas cylinders, and wages for the MGNREGA.
  • It must compute the costs of delivering universal social services. Post computation, robust steps must be taken to arrange the requisite amount.
  • The country can learn from successful global models like Ireland’s Poor Law System.
    • The system was introduced in the 19th century to provide relief to the masses. It was financed by local property taxes. 
    • The system was built keeping in mind the future economic crisis and dignity of the masses.
    • It has now evolved into a four-fold apparatus. It promises social insurance, social assistance, universal schemes, and extra benefits/supplements.
  • There must be a focus on data digitization, data-driven decision-making, and collaboration across government departments. This would improve the implementation potential.

Source: The Hindu 

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