Building an inclusive social safety system

Jul 20, 2023 10:19 PM IST

WSPR 2020-22 doesn't recognize social security in kind. The Indian government is working to map and include more social protection schemes in the WSPR.

Social protection is an important indicator of a welfare State. Globally, different models of social protection are offered by governments. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), social protection encompasses a wide range of benefits such as maternity, unemployment, employment injury, sickness, old age, disability, and health protections. In the organised sector, these are often financed by way of matching contributions of employers and employees into a pension fund, or health insurance. For the unorganised sector workers, it is often governments that finance social protection.

WSPR suffers from a measurement issue. In India, the size of the unorganised or informal sector is about 80%.(PTI) PREMIUM
WSPR suffers from a measurement issue. In India, the size of the unorganised or informal sector is about 80%.(PTI)

The coverage of social protection is measured globally by ILO which brings out the World Social Protection Report (WSPR) every three years. The most recent edition of the report, WSPR 2020-22, revealed that only 46.9% of the world’s population receives the benefits of at least one social protection programme. In India, our social protection coverage appears relatively limited, with only 24.4% of the population shown benefiting from at least one programme.

A deep dive into the issue points to two issues. The first is definitional. To be considered a part of social protection, a scheme or measure should be statutory, should offer regular benefits and be given in cash or through bank accounts. This automatically rules out social security measures given in kind.

The other is a measurement issue. In India, the size of the unorganised or informal sector is about 80%. The nature of the sector itself precludes an employer-employee relationship. Many benefits for the people in our country could not get included in the WSPR report as they are not mapped to identify unique beneficiaries or aren’t easily available in the public domain.

The global report thus undercounts the efforts made and expenditures undertaken, especially in economies with a large informal sector. Secondly, it in turn informs other global reports that use it.

Looking deeper, we find that the last WSPR considered information from only seven schemes (aligned with sustainable development goal national indicators) as representative of India’s social protection landscape. In India, around 25 ministries and departments implement more than 100 social protection schemes or programmes in one form or another. Many of these schemes fall within the ambit of being statutory, in cash (or direct benefit transfer in India’s case) and regular, and thus eminently amenable to being included in the current framework.

This is where our learning from another exercise comes in handy; eShram is the largest global database of about 290 million unorganised workers, who have self-registered in about 475 occupations. Recently, the task of matching the data of a few social protection schemes with eShram data was undertaken by the ministry. The objective of pooling of social welfare schemes with eShram data was to enable the government to identify eShram registrants who are receiving the benefits of these schemes. This data is being shared with states and Union Territories (UTs) to facilitate the delivery of such schemes.

However, eShram data consists of about 290 million unorganised workers, whereas the total number of beneficiaries in the country is much more. For example, the total number of beneficiaries in the One Nation One Ration Card scheme is about 790 million. Taking lessons learnt from the eShram mapping, the ministry is now undertaking a mapping of nearly 60-plus schemes that fall within the ambit of WSPR. In any case, accurate information on the social protection benefits in the basket of a family unit or an individual is also vital internally for effective policymaking. It will enable central and state governments to align and optimise social protection schemes for enhancing coverage.

In the meantime, the ministry has proactively addressed the issue by engaging with ILO. Sharing mapped and comprehensive data would enable a more accurate assessment of the coverage and impact of various social protection initiatives in India.

The next step would be resolving the issue of recognising social security in kind.

Going ahead, it will be imperative that a broader definition of social security is taken in WSPR and other global reports, one that is representative of all countries, especially those with large informal sectors and those in India that implement many social protection measures in kind. This collaborative effort between the ministry and ILO signifies a commitment to ensuring a more comprehensive, accurate and representative global understanding of social protection.

Arti Ahuja is secretary, labour and employment ministry. The views expressed are personal.

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