Making Social Security Accessible To All
The word ‘retire’ has assumed a new significance in our lives. In the past, it meant living a life of dignity with pensions and hard-earned savings. Having a steady job was the greatest security that influenced our loyalty to organisations.
Times are changing but not necessarily for the better. Spiraling health and education costs and rising inflation – 7.4% at the time of writing this piece – are eroding the savings of millions who squirrel away cash in banks to plan their retired life.
What then is our definition of social security in this age? Life expectancy in our country, I read, has more than doubled since Independence: from 32 years in the late 1940s to 70 years or so today. The proportion of elderly people (60 years and above) in our population should reach 18% by 2036 compared to 9% in 2011.
But living longer doesn’t mean living healthier. For me, living healthy means bouncing around with a feeling of preparedness that we’re covered for all eventualities.
The salary-class professionals have the blessings of corporates that offer them perks in the form of insurance, Mediclaim, provident fund and gratuity. But social security can’t be just a privilege of the working class or the avocado-on-toast elites.
The unorganised sector, which comprises 90% of our workforce, is deprived of the social security umbrella, primarily on account of its workers’ informal nature of employment. While the organised sector workers are covered under the Factories Act of 1948, which extends social security to workers, the unorganised sector workers remain vulnerable owing to ignorance, illiteracy, dispersed operations, and seasonal nature of occupations.
The government and corporate employees are adequately insured. Even the lowest stratum of labour and workers has access to a social security net in the form of schemes such as Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana (PMJJBY), Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana (PMSBY) and Atal Pension Yojana (APY).
Think of the external-service partners though. Dealers, retailers, distributors and those running Kirana stores offer optimised services and customised solutions to meet the value chain needs of businesses on a daily basis. You don’t need me to tell you how our value chain engines serve us in the key areas of information tracking, material handling and product delivery. They are the very soul of industries offering security and continuity, the attributes we often take for granted.
Ironically, these real players behind such a well-integrated network – they cover a diverse range of industries from FMCG to construction – are left to fend for themselves. Let alone financial security, they don’t have access to affordable insurance, healthcare schemes, pension funds and are barely ever covered for exigencies during old age. Since they don’t enjoy employee-related benefits, they aren’t equipped to cope with pandemics and geopolitical uncertainties either.
For sure, the government is doing its bit to make a difference in this regard.
Last year, the Supreme Court asked food delivery platforms whether India’s gig workforce should be included in the unorganised labour category so that they benefit from social security schemes like insurance, PF, gratuity and maternity assistance.
Then there’s the Code on Social Security announced two years ago, stipulating that all gig and platform workers update their address, contact numbers, and period of engagement with their firms on a portal specified by the government to avail of social security schemes.
Yet, the Indian system has its inherent limitations. It’s not wired to offer social security benefits on a scale wide enough to brighten lives.
Here’s where businesses need to have a change of approach.
Businesses must think about eliciting smiles from their faces, even though value chain partners don’t pledge allegiances to just one company. They start with a disadvantage. A hardware shop owner might transact with 25 companies. A Kirana storekeeper could liaise with hundreds of business entities. Because of the very nature of their businesses, they are perceived as external resources.
So, isn’t it time businesses do them a greater service? Let’s think beyond discounts that make the association ostensibly transactional. It’s about having a greater focus to make a genuine difference to their social welfare on a larger scale.
To start with, corporates could allocate a small portion from their discounting structure or corpus towards golden-age plans, pension schemes and insurance for their value chain networks.
I can vouch from experience that a large section of corporates has a genuine intent to expand these benefits to the value chain community but could be constrained by a lack of structure. And in certain cases, high administrative costs do impact the financial sustainability of health insurance funds.
This is where HUMBEE comes in. We plug the social-welfare gaps and organise this highly unorganised sector.
The HUMBEE app stems from intent for welfare and is driven by the potential of business and goodness converging into one platform. This 20.95 venture touches the lives of many value chain partners across diverse industries and sectors, essentially impacting those who are denied the privilege of stability and organised social security.
It’s HUMBEE’s humble attempt to record (the contribution), recognise ( the business accumulated) and reward (incentivise with social security benefits for their contribution).
Social welfare for value chain partners shouldn’t be seen as just a CSR initiative to be executed and forgotten. These passionate, hard-working and innovative people contribute immensely to our industries. HUMBEE has taken a small step to be the missing link between intent (businesses willing to extend social security benefits to their value chain partners) and outcome (these overlooked entities finally having access to welfare). So much more could still be done to bridge these gaps.
Don’t we owe it to them?