Editorial: Expand social security network
Editorial: Expand social security network

Editorial: Expand social security network

Although there are strong indications that the economy is slowly returning to the pre-pandemic level, the situation of informal workers, who make up a large part of the workforce, remains a matter of concern. The deep-seated vulnerability of workers in the informal sector, including migrants, was thoroughly exposed during the pandemic and is closely linked to the level of recovery of private consumption and investment. Official data show that employment has not yet been restored. The employment rate for the period May-August ’21 was 36.8%, and unemployment in both rural and urban areas is still significantly higher. The consumer sentiment survey from the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy also shows that most households perceived their current income as lower than their income two years ago. While the e-Shram portal, launched by the central government for the registration of informal workers and circular migrants, is a welcome initiative, it should be followed by the simplification and restructuring of social security and social protection programs. Identification and registration of workers marks the first phase in the long and arduous task of creating a social security structure for the unorganized work. Ensuring universal social protection, as enshrined in the Constitution, must be the focus of public policy. This requires both acute short-term measures and effective long-term measures. The emergency demands, prompted by the pandemic, led the Supreme Court to order a timed inclusive and universal registration system for informal workers and circular migrants in May this year. The e-Shram portal is intended to meet this mandatory requirement.

The portal has so far registered more than 120 million workers. It also captures migration status for workers, albeit with very sparse information. The problem arises mainly due to the absence of credible data in the country on the migrant workforce. For years, successive governments have failed to identify them and meet their immediate needs quickly. This meant that no meaningful political intervention could reach them in the acute emergency. Despite the high intentions, several pro-poor policy initiatives in India are not yielding the desired results due to the absence of detailed data. The center recently pledged its commitment to universal social protection and social security coverage for informal workers. This will mean moving away from the blanket of existing schemes towards creating specific statutory rights to social security as well as creating a well-designed and adequately funded social security floor for all workers and families. But the e-Shram portal simply lists the 13 existing social security and social security schemes and six other employment generation schemes to which the registered workers could be entitled. Unless the social safety net is expanded, the real benefits will not flow. There is a need for increased expenditure on social security needs.


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