Social Security and its evolution in India

By Saroj Singh|Updated : March 6th, 2020

Social Security is not a very old concept as it had just evolved in the 20th century. The term, the laws and the institutions build around to institutionalise in India is of recent origin. The concept of social security is based on the ideals of human dignity and social justice. 

 Social Security and its evolution in India

Social Security has been the prime focus while framing policies and schemes of the Govt of India. The policy is a necessary catalyst for change. The concept of social security kept evolving and widening as there is no commonly accepted definition of the term. India, being a Welfare State, has taken upon itself the responsibilities of extending various benefits of Social Security and Social Assistance to its citizens.  As per V.V. Giri, the former President of India, “Social security, as currently understood, is one of the dynamic concepts of the modern age, which is influencing social as well as economic policy. It is the security that the State furnishes against the risks which an individual of small means cannot, stand up to by himself or even on private combination with his fellow countrymen.”

What is the need for Social Security in India?

The Govt. of India accepted the principles of health insurance and passed the ‘Employees’ State Insurance Act in April 1948, in the view of the impact of the World War II on labour in India. The ESI Scheme is the-first health insurance scheme in South-East Asia. Though the Scheme, to begin with, was not a very comprehensive one, it has become the cornerstone of social security for industrial labour in India. Modernisation and urbanisation have resulted in radical socio-economic changes and give rise to new conflicts and tensions consequent upon the erosion of age-old family and fraternal security. The transition from an agricultural economy to an industrial economy brought in particular accompanied problems like industrial accidents in serious dimensions, that called for social security. There must be a system in which the State bears the responsibility for providing and ensuring a basic level of social security which is an essential ingredient in the protection, development and full utilisation of human resources.  Social security may provide for the welfare of persons who become incapable of working because of old age, sickness and invalidity and or unable to earn anything for their livelihood.  

Constitutional provision for social security

Social Security and labour welfare fall under the Concurrent list; it means both union and state Government can make laws regarding these topics. The Constitution of India requires that the State should within the limits of its economic capacity make adequate provision for securing the right to work, to education and public assistance in case of unemployment, old age, sickness and disablement. The Social Security legislations in India derive their strength and spirit from the Directive Principles of the State Policy (DPSP) as contained in the Constitution of India. The Constitution of India recognises Social Security as an integral part of Fundamental Rights. The ultimate aim of social security is to ensure that everyone has the means of livelihood and hence the right to social security and protection of the family are an integral part of the right to life.

What is social assistance?

Social assistance is a device organised by the State by providing cash assistance and medical relief, to such members of the society as they cannot get them from their resources. After independence, in the initial years, all the social security schemes and programs were focused on younger generations. Healthcare also was taken into consideration post-independence. Presently, social assistance programmes cover programme like unemployment assistance, old-age assistance, national assistance. Social insurance is plan insurance which aimed for protecting the wages of those workers who do not have sufficient source to support their self or their families in case of loss of income due to meeting contingencies in their work life. In the post-independence period, subsequently through each ‘five-year plan’ there has been considerable development in the social security measures in India. Steps have been adopted to translate the objectives stated in the Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSPs) to safeguard the interests of workers against sickness, accident, disease, old age and unemployment. 

Some important Social Security laws in India

The legal backing to the effective implementation of social security measures has been given in the form of legislation. Some of them are as follows:

  • Workmen’s Compensation Act, 1923
  • Employees’ State Insurance Act, 1948
  • Employees’ Provident Fund Act, 1952
  • Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 
  • Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972

Social Security protects not just the subscriber but also his/her entire family by giving benefit packages in financial security and health care. Social Security schemes are designed to guarantee at least long-term sustenance to families upon the demise of the earning member in the family or the event of such member suffering any inability or disability due to any reason. Thus, the main strength of the Social Security system is that it acts as a facilitator. It helps people to plan their future through insurance and assistance.

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