Quest for a guiding anchor for government’s social welfare schemes

Quest for a guiding anchor for government’s social welfare schemes

By Dr. R.K Mitra

The governments of welfare states around the world burn significant midnight oil in rolling out social protection measures and schemes and spend considerable government revenue in providing the same. The salient objective of the social protection schemes is to provide a reasonable level of support – be it in the form of food, health, or education, to families who are marginalized and can’t afford a decent level of living of their own.

Notwithstanding the noble intentions behind such schemes and the considerable planning that goes into these schemes, beginning with the delineation of target groups of beneficiaries and detailed modalities like determination of eligibility and subsequent processing to disbursement for all such schemes. The fact remains that more often than not a considerable number of people for whom the scheme in question is actually meant for, continue to remain excluded from the benefits while there are people who do not actually need the benefits but end up receiving the benefits, thus causing benefit leakages.

The question is as to how and why such errors of inclusion and exclusion occur and why is the Government unable to effectively rectify these errors? Admittedly, the implementing agency of the Government leaves no stone unturned to ensure that the intended benefits are provided to the intended beneficiaries. However there appears to be certain systemic deficiencies that remain embedded in the design and implementation level.

Every social protection scheme is conceived keeping in mind a broad group of beneficiaries whom the Government considers as “needy”. They constitute the ‘intended’ beneficiaries. Once the set of intended beneficiaries is decided, the basket of benefits follows. There is a clear nexus between the targeted group and the consequent intended benefits basket. These two key components help the government departments to work out eligibility criteria for the scheme. This we call a scheme-specific approach to social protection schemes. This is the current design and dominant template of most social protection schemes.

The scheme’s specific approach, no matter how robust the overall net of the scheme is, fails to address the very rationale of the social protection scheme as it does not delve deeper into the socio-economic need profile of target users. It is possible to determine the extent of extant coverage of welfare services of the target user and the coverage the target user is in need of.

A socio-economic need score can therefore be generated. Such a socio-economic need score of users can serve as a macro indicator of the effectiveness of all social protection schemes implemented already and the gap that the prospective schemes need to cover such that the target users come out of the net eventually. In fact, the socio-economic need profiling can be the apex qualifying indicator to decide the very rationale of a fresh social protection scheme. Socio-economic need profiling can act as a guiding anchor as to which needs are a priority. The marginal social return of every rupee spent is important particularly when the public money is involved.

Once the socio-economic need profile of target users is settled, at the next stage comes a possible hierarchy of types of welfare needs. Determining an overriding welfare need of target users helps to focus on the inter se importance of the type of needs in the overall need hierarchy of target users. Just like the socio-economic need score, it is possible to generate a welfare score for target users as the next guiding anchor.

Once the precise welfare-type need of target users is decided, then a scheme-specific approach is the natural progression in the overall trajectory of the social protection schemes implementation plan of the Government.

Thus, a social protection scheme for its true success presupposes a reasonable clarity of the socio-economic need profile of the marginalized people, which will be the guiding anchor for the specific welfare need to be addressed, and finally scheme-specific need to be covered as the penultimate objective. Once a construct incorporating all three layers is built, the success rate to be measured in terms of minimum errors of exclusion and inclusion can qualify to be called truly welfare optimization.

This article first appeared in ET Government,

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