Making social welfare universal


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Welfare state

Mains level: Paper 2- Universal social protection scheme

The article highlights the need for universal social protection scheme in India and suggests a way to achieve it.

Need for universal social security

  • The pandemic has 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.
  • 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.

Lessons from Poor Law System in Ireland

  • An example of a universal social protection scheme is the Poor Law System in Ireland.
  • In the 19th century, to deal with poverty and famine, Ireland 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.

Issues with the existing social protection schemes in Inda

  • Existing schemes in India cover a wide variety of social protections.
  • However, they are fractionalised across various departments and sub-schemes.
  • This causes problems beginning with data collection to last-mile delivery.

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.
  • Generally, social assistance schemes are provided on the basis of an assessment of needs.
  • Having a universal scheme would take away this access/exclusion barrier.
  • For example, 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.
  • It would be especially useful for migrant populations.
  • Making other schemes/welfare provisions like education, maternity benefits, disability benefits etc. also universal would ensure a better standard of living for the people.
  • To ensure some of these issues are addressed, we need to map the State and Central schemes in a consolidated manner.
  • This is to avoid duplication, inclusion and exclusion errors in welfare delivery.
  • The implementation of any of these ideas is only possible through a focus on data digitisation, data-driven decision-making and collaboration across government departments.

Consider the question “What are the issues with existing social security schemes in India? What would be the benefits of replacing all these social security schemes with universal social security scheme?”


India is one of the largest welfare states in the world and yet, with COVID-19 striking in 2020, the state failed to provide for its most vulnerable citizens. This underlines the need for a universal social protection scheme in India.

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