The ILO report and Social protection in India – Explained, pointwise

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Introduction

India is one of the largest welfare states in the world. But India, so far failed to provide social welfare to most of its vulnerable citizens.  Recently, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has released a report titled ‘World Social Protection Report 2020–22’.

The report provides a global overview of recent developments in social protection systems, including social protection floors, and covers the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Covid-19 pandemic also revealed the issues associated with existing social security provisions in India. This further highlights the need for universal social security in India.

What are the key findings of the ILO report?

Coverage of Social Protection: Currently, only 47% of the global population are effectively covered by at least one social protection benefit.

Government Spending on Social Protection: It varies significantly. On average, countries spend 12.8% of their gross domestic product (GDP) on social protection (excluding health). However, high-income countries spend 16.4% and low-income countries only 1.1% of their GDP on social protection.

Inequalities in Social Protection: There are significant regional inequalities in social protection. Europe and Central Asia have the highest rates of coverage, with 84% of people being covered by at least one benefit. On the other hand, Asia and the Pacific (44%), the Arab States (40%) and Africa (17.4%) have marked coverage gaps.

Category wise Social Protection mentioned in the ILO report 

Children: Only one in four children (26.4%) receives a social protection benefit.

Cash Maternity Benefit: Only 45% of women with newborns worldwide receive a cash maternity benefit.

Disability: Only one in three persons with severe disabilities (33.5%) worldwide receive a disability benefit.

Unemployment: Coverage of unemployment benefits is even lower; only 18.6%  of unemployed workers worldwide are effectively covered.

Old Age Pension: Around 77.5% of people above retirement age receive some form of old-age pension.

What is social protection?

Social protection includes access to health care and income security particularly in relation to old age, unemployment, sickness, disability, work injury, maternity, or loss of the main income earner, as well as for families with children.

Social security acts as an umbrella for people during adverse situations. The government’s social welfare programmes act as a buffer against all odds in the time of need. Further, it helps to lift millions of people out of poverty and also helps to raise the standard of living.

Why does India need social protection programmes?

India needs social protection programmes for the reasons like increasing population levels, especially the elderly population, high prevalence of poverty and inequality and also for the prevalence of large scale unemployment and pandemic induced migration of workers in India.

Apart from that, India needs social welfare programmes for increasing privatization and globalisation, low insurance penetration, etc.

The impact of the pandemic on social security programmes

The pandemic has impacted the progress of India’s social welfare programmes. For instance,

Oxfam International‘s “The Inequality Virus” report mentions that the COVID pandemic has increased the economic inequality in almost every country. This is the first time this has happened ever since records began. The report also mentions that the impact of the Pandemic on the Informal sector due to stringent lockdown affected the sector more and resulted in large scale migration.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021 report, highlighting the following issues in food security.

Dip in people’s affordability of healthy food: There is a significant dip in people’s affordability for healthy food due to a loss in income. The pandemic led to an additional 141 million people being unable to afford a healthy diet in the countries studied.

Loss of income & rise in food prices: The primary reason for a dip in affordability is the loss of income. But food price rise has made the situation more acute. By the end of 2020, global consumer food prices were the highest in six years.

Undernourishment: The increase in the number of undernourished during the pandemic was more than five times greater than the highest increase in undernourishment in the last two decades.

Read more: Food security in India and its challenges
What are the government programmes that aid social protection?

Social protection for organised sectors: Employees Provident Fund Scheme, Atal Bimit Vyakti Kalyan Yojna, etc. aim to provide social security to workers in the organised sectors.

Social protection for Migrant workers: Migrant workers and their Social protection in India – Explained, pointwise.

Social protection for Elderly population: Government schemes and initiatives towards the betterment of the elderly population.

Social protection for women: Schemes such as Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana(PMMVY), Maternity Benefit Act, Mission Shakti, Mission Poshan 2.0, and Mission Vatsalya, etc aim to provide social protection to women in the country.

Apart from that, schemes such as Ayushman Bharat- National Health Protection Mission (AB-NHPM), National Nutrition Mission, National Food Safety Act (NFSA), etc also aim to provide social security.

Read more: Government Schemes in News – Part 1| Part 2
How to improve social protection in India further?

Implementing the recommendations of Parliamentary Committee recommendations: Recently, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour chaired by Bhartruhari Mahtab suggested the government to improve social security measures. The important suggestions include,

The report suggested that the government should strive to support a recovery that is robust, broad-based and women-centric and based on social dialogues with all the stakeholders concerned.

The panel said universal healthcare should be made a legal obligation of the government.

The budgetary allocation for MGNREGA should be increased.

The panel also recommended an urban job guarantee scheme on the lines of the MGNREGA.

In the backdrop of pre-existing high and rising unemployment, a comprehensive plan and roadmap are required to address the deteriorating condition of employment, much aggravated by the pandemic.

Read more about the committee report: ‘Improve social security for workers’
Conclusion

Although the government at various levels tries its best to ensure social security to its citizens, the government schemes and acts only reached a very small section of society. So, the government has to move away from the targeted schemes to the Universal social security programmes.

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