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Social Security And Public Policy – IMPRI Impact And Policy Research Institute


Session Report

Aishwarya Dutta

On Day 6 of the Fundamentals of Public Policy, an immersive online spring school programme, organized by the Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi, an insightful session on Social security and Public Policy was led by Mr. Sandeep Chachra. The discussion began with the evolution of social security and where it lies in history. While social welfare provisions have existed in all civilizations, the evolution of modern social security can be traced back to the early days of capitalism around the end of 16th century.

Historical Background

If we go back in history we see that the English Poor Law (1601) was the first systematic codification of such ideas. It was a tax financed relief activity that distinguished between the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor. It was controlled locally by the community through the establishment of alms houses to accommodate those availing of such relief measures. Economic security was largely treated as a problem that afflicted only the poor. The English Poor Laws were poorly enforced but widely used in the 17th and 18th centuries and could be regarded as an early social assistance venture.

On the other hand, Germany introduced the world’s first social insurance scheme in the form of the Sickness Insurance Law (1883) by Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. But this was also born out of political ambition. Taking a major leap the speaker now comes to the period during the war. The high point of social security as a discourse came during World War II. There was an emergence of the earliest conceptualization of social security – the Beveridge Committee (1942) but also several milestone declarations in the history of human rights. The Philadelphia Declaration (1944) put human rights as the fundamental objective of all national and international policies.

Subsequently, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) , 1948 recognized an individual’s right to social security (Article 22) as a basic human right and not a dole. UDHR’s
Articles 22-27 upheld the right to a standard of living and called for additional accommodations and care for the physically disabled as well as for mothers and children. Thus there developed a rights-driven approach to social security. A landmark declaration on the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (1966) recognised individual’s right to incorporate labor rights, the right to health, the right to health, the right to education, and the right to an adequate standard of living.

However, during the last 30 years there has been a constriction of the notion of social security. Social security gave way to social protection: minimalist protections for the poorest and most marginalized rather than on the social, cultural, and economic rights of all citizens as was envisaged in UDHR (1948). The 1990s saw the Liberalization, Privatization and Globalization Reforms and social security has seen shifts in terms of regression of the idea of social security.

Definition of Social Security

While giving a definition on Social Security, the Beveridge Committee Report (1942) provided one of the earliest definitions of social security as the ‘freedom from fear and wants’ but was restricted to healthcare and rehabilitation services and provision of children’s allowances. He also focused on ILO’s Social Security Convention, 1952 which classifies social security systems into nine standard branches – healthcare, sickness, old age, unemployment, employment injury, family and child support, maternity, disability, and survivors and orphans.

However this definition has been critiqued for being too restrictive because it is derived mostly from the experiences of the global north. It does not consider the differences between the global north and the global south. It must be kept in mind that the structural characteristics in the global south often impede the penetration of social security systems like unemployment allowances, pension systems, and maternity benefits that have been widespread in the industrialized economies.

The underdeveloped capital and insurance markets, the predominance of informality, high share of agricultural employment and self-employment exclude a major chunk of the population from the ambit of social security systems. Moreover, poverty, wealth and income inequalities, and inadequate access to productive assets, markets, and institutional support make the poor in these countries significantly vulnerable to shocks during their life-cycle.

Social Security in the Indian Context

The constitutional provisions contain certain ingredients which cater to the realization of socio-economic rights. The Directive Principles have also contributed a lot in this sphere. There is a large plethora of social protection schemes, both at the central and state levels, which cater to different segments of the population. The ambit of these schemes is quite large, covering basic education and health, employment creation and promotion, worker’s social security, food and nutrition security, and social pensions.

With regard to this a major law, the Code on Social Security, 2020 amended and consolidated the pre-existing laws relating to social security with the goal to extend social security to all employees and workers either in the organized or unorganized or any other sectors. This code consolidated a large number of acts including the Employees’ State Insurance Act, 1948, Unorganised Workers Social Security Act 2008, The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, to name a few.

He also highlighted the key social security schemes such as the Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme (IGNOAPS), Pradhan Mantri Shram Yogi Maan-dhan (PM-SYM), Atal Pension Yojana (APY), Pradhan Mantri Kisan Man Dhan Yojana (PM-KMY), Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY), Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana, and several other schemes. He further went on comparing the social security coverage of India as compared to countries like Brazil, Germany and China.

Concluding remarks: Key challenges and the way forward

In his concluding remarks, Mr Chachra talked about the key challenges in the social security sector. The primary challenge has been in improving effective social security coverage in a country like India has been the presence of a large informal economy. The Indian economy is characterized as one of the few large and growing economies with a vast informal sector, that is dominated by a large number of small enterprises consisting of self-employed and hired labor without any employment and/or social security.

Another obstacle is the fragmented administrative and delivery systems for social security. Thus social security systems must strive to move away from ‘minimalistic’ and ‘individualistic’ tendencies and move towards a more universal and inclusive approach. A strong civil society and political activism are required.

After his address Prof. Mukul Asher expressed his vote of thanks to Mr. Chachra.

Acknowledgement: Aishwarya Dutta is a research intern at IMPRI.

Read more event reports of IMPRI here.

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IMPRI, a startup research think tank, is a platform for pro-active, independent, non-partisan and policy-based research. It contributes to debates and deliberations for action-based solutions to a host of strategic issues. IMPRI is committed to democracy, mobilization and community building.


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