Poverty Eradication – Definition, Debates, etc.

Social sector: the post-Covid priority


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Social sector expenditure as percentage of GDP

Mains level: Paper 2- Need to invest more in the social sector in the post pandemic world

The article highlights the need for more focus on the social sector in the post-Covid society and suggest ways to do the same.

Why focus on social sector

  • No country has progressed without investing in the social sector.
  • India is committed to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, and social sector development is important in reaching them.
  • Progress in this sector has intrinsic (for its own sake) and instrumental (for higher growth) value.
  • It is needed even to build a $5 trillion economy faster.

India’s social sector expenditure

  • India’s progress in the social sector has been much slower compared to its GDP growth.
  • In the social sector expenditure, the share of education as a percentage of GDP has been stagnant around 2.8-3 per cent during 2014-15 to 2019-20.
  • In the case of health, the expenditure as a percentage of GDP increased from 1.2 per cent to 1.5 per cent.
  • This is lower than the required 2-3 per cent of GDP.
  • An increase in health expenditure is also important to take care of the present and future pandemics.
  • There are supply side problems regarding the health infrastructure.
  • It is essential to have a huge increase in public expenditure on health and provide accessible, affordable and quality health coverage to all.

Following are some key issues in the social sector India needs to focus on.

1) The problem of undernutrition

  • The NFHS-5 report shows that malnutrition level has reduced marginally in a few states and has worsened in some other states between 2015-16 and 2019-20.
  • We can’t have a society with 35 per cent of our children suffering from malnutrition.
  • Apart from undernutrition, obesity seems to be increasing in both rural and urban areas.
  • There is a need to raise allocations for ICDS and other nutrition programmes.
  • The determinants of nutrition are agriculture, health, women’s empowerment, including maternal and child practices, social protection, nutrition education, sanitation and drinking water.
  • The Poshan Abhiyan is a good programme, but has to cover all these determinants with a multi-pronged approach to reduce undernutrition.

2) Quality education

  • Quality education is key for raising human development.
  • The pandemic has enhanced inequalities in education and has revealed the widening digital gap.
  • Equality of opportunity in terms of quality education is the key for raising human development and for reducing inequalities in the labour market.
  • Several committees have recommended that public expenditure on education should be at 6 per cent of GDP.

3) Social safety nets

  •  It is known that migrant workers were the most affected during the pandemic and that they do not have any safety nets.
  • There is a need to have safety nets like an employment guarantee scheme for the urban poor and facilities for migrants.
  • Similarly in rural areas, allocations to MGNREGA have to be increased because of the reverse migration.

4) Programs for vulnerable section need to be continued

  • The government has done well in providing cooking gas through Ujjwala Yojana and electricity through Saubhagya Yojana, introducing programmes such as Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and initiatives for housing, financial inclusion and providing loans to the self-employed.
  • These programmes have helped the vulnerable sections, particularly women.
  • Another initiative of the government was to facilitate direct benefit transfers (DBT) for welfare schemes.
  • These initiatives have to be continued.

Way forward

  • The government should give more focus to the social sector with better policies and implementation.
  • It has to work closely with the states in revitalising the social sector as major expenditures particularly on health and education are met by them.
  • The 15th Finance Commission also seems to have mentioned that health expenditure should be increased to 2.1 per cent of GDP.
  • The Commission may also suggest some incentives for states to increase health expenditure.
  • Both Centre and states should have a five-year vision on the social sector.

Consider the question “No country has progressed without investing in the social sector. In the post pandemic world India needs to chart the plan to invest more in the sector. In light of this, examine the challenges in the social sector and suggest the ways to deal with them.


India, aspiring to be a global power, should have a harmonious and inclusive social sector development. This is also important for achieving the SDGs, reducing inequalities and building a $5 trillion economy faster.

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