3 June :“India is making a determined effort to extend basic social security coverage and a number of important measures have been initiated, especially in the informal economy”, this was stated by the Director General of International Labour Organisation (ILO), Mr. Juan Somavia, in his address at the two-day Asia-Pacific Regional High-Level Meeting on Socially Inclusive Strategies to Extend Social Security.The paper, “Poverty, Economic and Social Development and the Right to Social Security within the Global Decent Work Debate”, which formed the basis for this high-level Asia-Pacific meeting on extending social security coverage, calls for a challenging of the conventional economic wisdom that sees spending on a social floor as unproductive, resulting in a “one-sided view of social security as a cost to society rather than a potential benefit and an investment in economies and people”.
The paper demonstrates that implementing basic social security systems can make an enormous contribution to pulling people out of poverty and to the achievement of the first Millennium Development Goal (which calls for the number of people living on less than a dollar a day to be halved by 2015). In contrast, economic growth alone does not automatically reduce poverty, unless it is supported by employment promotion and income redistribution mechanism. But, while social security is an established human right, it “remains a dream for 80 per cent of the global population”.
According to ILO calculations, less than two per cent of Global Product could provide basic social security benefits to all the world’s poor, and six per cent would cover all those who currently lack access to social security. What’s more, even most low-income countries can afford some level of social protection, the paper says, citing examples in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Vietnam where research shows that the cost of a basic benefits package, varying over the next 20 or so years, should not exceed six to eight per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Such a package might include essential health care, benefits directed at child welfare, and old age and disability –related income security.
Making the case for a global social floor, the paper cites “good social reasons to introduce social protection mechanisms at an early stage of economic development and generally no good economic reasons why that should not be done”.
The Asia-Pacific Regional High-Level Meeting on Socially-Inclusive Strategies to Extend Social Security Coverage brings together representatives of Governments, Workers and Employers from 21 Asia Pacific countries and has been organized by the International Labour Organization (ILO) in collaboration with the Indian Ministry of Labour and Employment.
Speaking on the occasion, the Minister said that the Indian Government is committed to provide social security and social protection to all workers in the informal sector and a conscious attempt has been made through the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme which provides for at least 100 days of employment guarantee in a year to unemployed rural workers.
Shri Fernandes specifically mentioned the ‘Aam Aadmi Bima Yojana’ which provides for life and disability cover to all the rural landless households in the country and the Rashtriya Swasthaya Bima Yojana wherein the health cover would be provided to all the Below Poverty Line workers in the unorganized sector during the next five years. Stating that around 300 million persons would get the benefit of this scheme, he said that reaching out to such huge numbers in far flung area is a stupendous task and would test the capacity and capabilities of the Insurance Companies whose task is to sell this product which would also be our commitment for the cause.
The Minister informed the delegates from the Asia-Pacific region that is making available foodgrains at highly subsidized rates to beneficiaries living below the poverty line and those coming under the category of poorest of the poor under the Targeted Public Distribution system (Antyodaya Anna Yojana).
The Director General of International Labour Organisation (ILO), Mr. Juan Somavia in his address said that four out of five people around the world lack basic social protection, but however, expressed satisfaction that the countries have recognized the fact that social security underpins balanced social and economic development and it is a powerful tool to fight poverty and inequality in all societies. He said that it is key to unleashing the full productive potential of workers, enabling people to go beyond their survival and expand their potential.
Applauding India’s ‘path-breaking efforts’ in providing social security coverage through the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and the Unorganized Sector Workers’ Social Security Bill, Mr. Assane Diop, the Executive Director, Social Protection Sector of ILO said that extending social security not only makes for good social policy in political and economic terms, it also stands to be seen as a vital investment in each country’s human resources and its social stability that is the prerequisite for progress.
The need is to find ways of extending social security coverage and dealing with emerging challenges, identifying good practices and fostering consensus on ways to proceed.