Social policy aims to improve human welfare and to meet human needs for education, health, housing and economic security. Important areas of social policy are well-being and welfare, poverty reduction, social security, justice, unemployment insurance, living conditions, animal rights, pensions, health care, social housing, family policy, social care, child protection, social exclusion, education policy, crime and criminal justice, urban development, and labour issues. It refers to programmes that redistribute resources across society and often seek to cushion people against life’s socioeconomic risks.
These programmes usually take the form of cash transfers or in-kind benefits such as medical care. Taken together, social programmes constitute the welfare state. Modern social programmes span a multitude of policy areas, including those for the unemployed, retirees, the sick, the disabled, the poor, and families with children (Béland 2010).
We need to appreciate the state’s role to ensure proper redistribution of wealth and facilities and to provide health and social security especially in a country like India wherein 29% of the population are still under poverty line, about 70% are very poor and 94% of the employment is in the unorganised sector, which has no protection to wages, employment guarantee, benefits after retirement, insurance and social security.
In developed countries, “private” benefits offered by employers play a key role in the world of social policy. Esping-Andersen (1990).This is particularly true in the US, where employers and other private providers have long been prominent social policy actors, a situation promoted by large tax subsidies and contracting out for the delivery of social services. In India, this is almost non-existent. American politicians who have favoured increasing government observance of social policy often do not frame their proposals around typical notions of welfare or benefits; instead, in cases like Medicare and Medicaid, President Lyndon Johnson presented a package called the Great Society that framed a larger vision around poverty and quality of life. The Obama Care Scheme was a major social policy to take care of the health of the poor.
The Bismarckian regime (e.g., Belgium, France, and Germany) is grounded in large and fragmented social insurance systems, whose main goal is income and status maintenance rather than citizenship equality. Finally, the liberal regime (e.g., Canada, the UK, and the US) gives a central role to market forces and private benefits, which means that government plays a residual role in the provision of welfare. In other words, government tends to intervene only when the market is perceived to have “failed.” However, even though welfare has been a central theme, interestingly the welfare state has long been a source of controversy and struggle in the US and other advanced industrialised nations.
Contemporary politics in this country and others is often dominated by the contentious questions of who gets what from government, and who pays for it. The distributive choices that emerge from these struggles have major consequences for individuals, societies, and politics. In India in the last 10 years, there has been a rise of demands on the Government to reduce subsidies to the poor and increate greater privatisation to improve the economy.
Privatisation of a large part of the economy is a great concept, when social security and good quality health care is available to the majority of the poor and middle class. However, if rampant privatisation is done without offering proper protection to the poor, it can create greater unemployment, poverty and social problems for the poor.
India is one of the highest collectors of tax and, therefore, it falls to reason that it should develop a very robust social security system to protect the poor and the middle class, elders, migrant labour which is roughly 85% of the population. More than ever, the world in which we live is a fluid and dynamic environment. Social, cultural and economic manifestations are imported and comparative social policy exported across borders. People flow between countries and there has been a proliferation of international organisations such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the World Bank, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, and an increase in the number of transnational companies which have no specific national base. It is important to explore these and other key aspects of globalisation, and consider the political and ideological developments of recent decades that have facilitated the process.
The expansion of capitalist social relations, the end of the ideological opposition between East and West, the emergence of a ‘transnational governance’, and the discrediting and demise of Keynesian macro-economic management and its replacement by a neo-liberal agenda emphasising deregulation, privatisation and free trade are all elements of a new era of global capitalism. We need to understand and appreciate the globalising processes taking place, as we are part of the global economy, but must remain sensitive to differences between nations as well as similarities and create social policy which is unique to our needs realising we have a predominantly poor population. The primary outcome of social policy is to improve the well-being of individuals, groups, and communities. If majority of the population is disadvantaged, no nation can develop. Views expressed are personal
Ashoke K Maitra
Founder & CEO, Sri Ramakrishna International Institute of Management