Universal Social Welfare

GS 2 – Government Schemes/Policies, Schemes For Vulnerable Sections

Source : https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/making-social-welfare-universal/article34433217.ece

Context: Human Development Report (HDR) 2020 released by UN Development Programme says that Covid-19 pandemic may have pushed some 100 million people into extreme poverty, the worst setback in a generation.
The pandemic has thus 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.

What is Social Security/Welfare system?

What is the Social Security/Welfare System?

  • According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Social Security is a comprehensive approach designed to prevent deprivation, give assurance to the individual of a basic minimum income for himself and his dependents and to protect the individual from any uncertainties.
  • It is also comprised of two elements, namely:
    Right to a Standard of Living adequate for the health and well-being, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.
  • Right to Income Security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond any person’s control.
Need of Universal Social Welfare
  1. Majority of Workforce is in Unorganised Sector
    Employs more than 90% of workforce and contributes about 50% of the gross national product. • Share of informal sector in rural areas is significantly large (~75%) mainly in areas like agriculture and non-farm economy including low end services. – more than 80% workers in the informal sector lost employment in India.
  2. Increasing health expenditure
    According to the Economic Survey 2020-21,India has one-of-the highest level of Out-Of-Pocket Expenditures (OOPE)- about 60%- contributing directly to the high incidence of catastrophic expenditures and poverty.
  3. Inadequate Expenditure on Social Security: 
    India has a broad aim of social protection programs, but the overall public expenditure on social protection (excluding public healthcare) is only approx. 1.5% of the GDP, lower than many middle-income countries across the world.
    • Further, 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.
    • Moreover, existing schemes are fractionalised across various departments and sub-schemes. This causes problems beginning with data collection to last-mile delivery.
  4. Rising inequality : According to the latest survey by Oxfam, India’s top 1% now holds almost 40 percent of the nation’s wealth, while the top 10 percent holds almost 70-80 percent. This has brought India among the top three most unequal countries in the world.


How universal system would help?
  • 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.
Case studies
  1. Thailand’s social protection and universal health coverage
    The concept of social citizenship offers an interesting point in the balance between rights and responsibility under the provision of health-care protection in Thailand. Social citizenship provides a benchmark to assess the status of individuals and groups in relation to access to agreed welfare rights and resources available to those who are regarded as citizens of a specific community.


  • Increased health-care utilization among the previously uninsured
  • It led to an improved database for the informal sector

2. 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.
  • They were not designed as hand-outs but as necessary responses to a time of economic crisis.
  • 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.
Schemes and Initiatives for Social Welfare in India
  • Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA): It guarantees 100 days of work a year to every rural household with an aim to enhance the livelihood security of people.
  • National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP): The program extends social assistance to poor households. It covers the aged, widows, disabled, and families where the breadwinner has passed away.
  • Integrated Child Development Services: It is a government program in India that provides food, preschool education, primary healthcare, cash transfers to families, etc. It covers children under 6 years of age and their mothers.
  • Ayushman Bharat – Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY): It provides insurance up to Rs 5 lakh per family per year for in-patient secondary and tertiary treatment. It covers over 100 million vulnerable families, which is about 500 million people.
Way forward

Emulating Pulse Polio Universal Immunisation Programme: 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. It took a dedicated effort over a number of years.
  • The implementation can be eased through a focus on data digitisation, data-driven decision-making and collaboration across government departments

Urban MGNREGA: MGNREGA has proved its utility by providing employment to millions of workers who have reverse migrated.

  • Thus, there is a case for extending this programme to urban areas with municipal bodies being given the responsibility for providing a fixed no of days work to all those seeking it.

Increase healthcare spending : Economic Survey suggested an increase in public spending from 1% to 2.5-3% of GDP — as envisaged  in the National Health Policy 2017 — can decrease the OOPE from 65% to 30% of overall healthcare spend.

Universal Basic Income  –giving people modest, regular, and unconditional cash payments, without being required to do any work for it.But it should be implemented as a supplemental, unconditional, recurring cash transfer to the target population while keeping the existing welfare infrastructure intact.


Making social welfare universal should be the government’s priority if we are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals 1 (End Poverty) and 3 (Good health and well being). Let us all remember what the great American President Franklin D. Roosevelt said way back in 1937. “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have too much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

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