Special Articles / Ashok Antony D'Souza / Social Development through Social Work
In this concluding chapter of the book, let us try to understand the reasons for the failure of social policies and planning in India in achieving Social Development and see how social workers could partner with the government in ensuring that Social Development for all its citizens is achieved at the earliest.
An Appraisal of the Performance of Social
Policy in India
India is placed 134th place on the Human Development Index. Social and economic researchers have pointed out that despite high growth in India’s per capita income, the progress in human development had not been satisfactory. There are increasing disparities among various segments of the population and employment had risen mostly in the informal sector, which was typically associated with a complete lack of social protection and low levels of earnings. There also a need for balanced and inclusive growth in the nation. Hence, there is an urgent the need for development to be reflected on the ground in terms of a significant reduction in poverty, malnutrition and deprivation.
Prof. Basu (Institute for Human Development, 2010) is of the opinion that market processes could not take care of the issue of human development, which necessitates policy planning and building of effective institutions. While asserting that human development and poverty were closely related, he claims that in order to raise the human development index (HDI), we need to concentrate on the bottom 20 per cent of the population.
Chandrashekar and Jayati Ghosh (2002) argue that the macroeconomic tendencies within the globalized regimes have been associated with greater inequality and fragility of incomes, which has in turn certain important social implications.
Jayati Ghosh (2002) believes that the consumerist attitudes of Indian upper and middle income groups resulted in the reduced interaction between the various rural classes, and a diminished concern on the part of rural elites towards the poorer sections, that used to mark the more paternalistic relations of the past. This is definite to have very adverse social and political consequences on excluded social groups. These consequences tend to be exacerbated by the cultural influences that come across as hegemonic, and which increasingly determine the aspirations of the youth in particular. This has been already resulting in feelings of antagonism and communalism. Thus, increasingly, the pattern of economic growth as well as the inability of extant social policy to ameliorate or reduce the consequent inequalities, has therefore meant that the management of social tensions has become an even more difficult task for the Indian state.
Thus, India continues to do poorly on the public provision of basic services even those such as education which are constitutionally obligated. India’s private health expenditure (78%) is one of the highest in the world, reflecting the abysmal provision of public health services. Child mortality and malnutrition are worse than Bangladesh and India’s literacy rates are one of the worst in Asia as is the extremely limited coverage of sanitation services.
India’s poor record in providing basic public goods – minimal levels of education, health, nutrition, water and sanitation – while spending vast public resources on targeting the poor, indicates that the problem is not one of limited resources, but political priorities and incentives.
A democracy with a large number of poor voters, who vigorously participate in elections, where hitherto marginalized social groups have made significant inroads in capturing political power, might be expected to have powerful incentives to address issues of poverty and social development.
Indeed, there is little doubt that India has made some progress in reducing poverty with the fraction of population that is defined as poor having fallen by about half since the late 1960s. But much of this decline has come from old fashioned growth rather than the welter of anti-poverty programs.
It is estimated that growth has been responsible for about 80% of the decline in the poverty headcount ratio (which measures the number of people below a defined poverty line8) and 60 percent in the decline of the poverty gap measure (which measures the intensity of poverty). Thus redistribution has been responsible for 20 and 40 percent of the decline in the two poverty measures. Not surprisingly, redistribution matters most for the ultra-poor. Given the large number of rural poor in India, an important predictor of poverty decline is agricultural growth. In the last decade, however, this sector has grown much more slowly, and hence the impact of India’s impressive growth rate on poverty decline has been less than in the past.
There are several reasons why programs specifically directed at poor and marginalized populations in India have done poorly. We group them broadly into two heads: (a) Structural and (b) Political. The nomenclature is more classificatory than descriptive.
The structural reasons stem in large part from the fiscal crises of state (i.e. provincial) governments. This has led to an increasing dependence on centrally sponsored schemes (CSS).
The programs are designed and substantially funded by the central government, but since the issue areas are in the state list of the Constitution, implementation is at the hands of states. In the two decades since the early 1980s, the share of the CSS in the Plan budget of the Central Ministries increased from 30 to 70 percent. This expansion has taken place at the expense of investments in infrastructure, energy and industry sectors.
The key problematic consequence of this is purely administrative, but no less important because of that. While each centrally sponsored scheme has the resources of a particular central ministry to call upon to aid in its design, stipulate conditionalities for disbursement, etc., the picture at the delivery level is very different. All centrally sponsored schemes must pass through the eye of the needle that is the district administration – and now increasingly the Panchayati Raj institutions (which are the 3rd tier of government i.e. local government). Few states have the administrative capacity to access grants from 200 plus schemes, spend money as per each of its conditions, maintain separate accounts and submit individual reports. This administrative capacity is even more limited in those states where the need is the most.
The multiplicity of centrally sponsored schemes makes it difficult for the local level administrative machinery to even monitor, let alone execute, the schemes. Even though many schemes have common objectives, targeting the same population, each develops a Hydra-like new administrative structure – fragmenting already weak and limited resources to begin with. If local level administrative capacity for implementation is weak, equally there is little incentive for the concerned central ministry to monitor these schemes. Even financial monitoring is weak, with funds released without questioning the utilization of previous assistance. As for impact or sustainability, the issue is hardly ever raised. The few evaluation reports prepared are themselves seldom monitored for quality and even otherwise seldom read. Fear of adverse publicity leads to any reports of shortcomings to be suppressed. A top-down approach and uniformity across states means that there is little local ownership, with the result that even if states are aware that the scheme is performing poorly, they become indifferent to its implementation. States do not attach importance to spending on CSSs, and thus are in no hurry to sanction expenditure. And mounting fiscal problems at the state level leads them to divert GOI funds for paying salaries.
A critical understanding of the links between politicians, political parties and citizens is needed to appreciate the political reasons for the varying outcomes in the delivery of social services. In India (as in many other democracies), the linkage between citizens and politicians is based less on broad indicators and provision of collective goods such as economic growth and stability or national health care and more on the private or club goods available to individual citizens. This patronage based party voter linkages based on direct material inducements targeted to individuals and particular social groups are at the core of clientelist relations. The resulting clientelist accountability represents a transaction linking the direct exchange of a citizen’s vote in return for direct payments or continuing access to employment goods and services. Clientelist-citizen-politician relations are distinctive in that benefits are targeted only to individuals or groups in exchange for electoral support. Thus the goods provided are either those that have excludability characteristics i.e. private goods (if rivalrous), such as housing or credit) or club good (if nonrivalrous) such as affirmative action benefits to specific social groups.
A number of interlinked factors have ensured the vitality of clientelist politics in India. Increasing political competition together with a growth of identity politics (in turn the result of ethno-cultural heterogeneity and a history of set-asides), and a first-past-the-post political system, has simply scaled up clientelist networks from local politics with personalistic face-to-face relations to the national level of hierarchical political machines. The continued high degree of discretion in the enforcement of rules, whether land encroachment or loan repayment, further adds to the phenomena.
Under such conditions appealing to a narrow group of voters can be sufficient to win elections. High levels of poverty fuel clientelist linkages in that poor voters can be more easily bought over by the provision of immediately provisional goods (small amounts of cash, liquor, clothes) because of the higher discount rates of poor voters. In India’s case, another intervening variable has been a shift in the structure of political parties with regional political parties gaining share at the expense of national political parties. For the latter holding power at the centre matters more, while the former, by definition, are state based. The division of constitutional responsibilities means that the regional and state based parties have little role in the provision of national collective goods, further increasing their incentives to provide private and club goods through the social policies that are within their constitutional mandate.
The prevalence of clientelist politics also helps understand the weakness from the demand side. A puzzle about Indian politics and social provisioning is why the poor have not articulated their demands more forcefully for better social services since they do express their voice when it comes to issues that bear on the “politics of dignity”. In part this may be due to the inhibiting effects of social heterogeneity on building broad class-based coalitions. The selective provisioning of goods and services and enforcement of rules that are the hallmark of clientelist politics also reduce the incentives for collective action and mute voice.
Recommendations for Revitalizing Social Policy in India
Institute for Human Development (2010) has identified some of the overarching issues affecting Social Development in India and has suggested the following steps for augmenting the social policies and planning in India:
• A rights-based approach was preferred to other approaches, as there is acknowledgement of the fact that citizenship is associated with rights to minimum entitlements. Examples of this include the Right to Food, Right to Work (MGNREGA), Right to Information, Right to Education, etc.
• There is a need to clearly identify both the target and the beneficiary. A combination of both universalization and targeted coverage may be followed in specific areas along with the consideration of costs, problems of exclusion, etc. The overall emphasis is on universalization of certain essentials like food, education, health, housing etc. Under the targeted system, there are errors of exclusion and inclusion, as well as leakages in a dual price system. Universalization can be combined with embedded self-selection systems.
• In an open economy, it is necessary to take into account the productivity effects of redistributive policies (for example MGNREGA), including asset redistribution and not just income redistribution, while considering the relative welfare and productivity effects of the two.
• Both the public and private sectors need to be assigned their respective roles in human development in the areas appropriate to each sector, with an emphasis on strengthening the public system. However, the need to improve service delivery is critical for achieving the required growth.
• A reasonable minimum standard needs to be achieved in education, health and other services. Linked to this is the need for developing effective monitoring and surveillance systems for supervising implementation and measure outcomes.
• It is imperative to address the interests of some deprived groups like SCs, STs, women, children, and minorities, as well as to ensure regional equity. Since laggard human development is concentrated in some eight to ten states, the regional dimension must also be addressed simultaneously.
• There is a need for decentralization and participatory programming. Local institutions and bodies, PRIs, SHGs, etc. need to be assigned a bigger role for ensuring the effective implementation of programmes. Greater accountability as well as a more participatory process through investments in institutions of the poor are required simultaneously. However, the fact that local institutions are often controlled by vested interests also needs to be taken into account.
• Successful programmes and strategies should be replicated universally, while at the same time taking into account the local contexts and requirements to ensure its successful implementation.
• Greater accountability and transparency are required in service delivery agencies. The state agencies need to adopt a more pro-poor stance to ensure the effective implementation of inclusive development strategies and positive human development outcomes.
• There should be a convergence of programmes and schemes apart from an integrated and holistic approach to achieve better planning, resource allocation and better results. However, it is also necessary to ensure that in this process, programmes like MGNREGS do not get treated as multipurpose programmes, which would make them lose sight of their core objectives.
• Issue pertaining to infrastructural constraints and capacity building need to be realistically and urgently addressed. Strategies should be designed to generate the requisite infrastructure in terms of both hardware and software, including schools, teachers, pedagogy, health centres, sanitation facilities, training programmes, etc.
• An effective administrative mechanism/base needs to be instituted for local governance. This would ensure prompt delivery of services, greater professionalism and better management, technological adaptation, design and work process change, and complementary administrative reforms, among other things.
Social Work’s Commitment to Social Development
Social work seeks to promote positive social change. Therefore, human development and social development necessarily become the direct concern to social work profession. Hence, it can be argued that social workers have to work independently as well as collaboratively towards realizing the goals of social development.
Dominelli (1997) states that social development has traditionally been taken to mean working in communities to develop local potential, largely in the Third World, to draw them more effectively into a capitalist nexus which accorded primacy to industrialisation strategies. However, she argues that social development in the globalized era is about meeting human needs in both industrialised and industrialising countries; in urban areas as well as rural areas; in majority communities and in minority communities; in the social sphere and the ecological sphere. Hence, she argues that, the social development process needs to be a holistic one which recognises the interdependence of people and their relationships to our planet from this perspective. This perspective, according to her, necessitates us to challenge the ‘structural adjustment’ strategies favoured by the World Bank and the IMF because these emphasise the privileging of the few over the many with deleterious consequences for human welfare, which are diagonally opposed to the humanist vision of social development.
Further, contemporary debate in social work as well as in social development favours human rights-based approach. For example National Association of Social Workers (2000) in its policy statement International Policy on Human Rights endorses the Universal Declaration, conventions and treatises that according to National Association of Social Workers, which they believe, provide a human rights template for social work.
The section 4 of International Federation of Social Workers and International Association of Schools of Social Work document provides two principles fundamental to social work viz., Human Rights and Dignity (section 4.1), and Social Justice (section 4.2). These illustrate how social work professionals are mandated to uphold and promote human rights perspective. Both these principles advocated by International Federation of Social Workers and International Association of Schools of Social Work are reproduced as follows:
Human Rights and Human Dignity
Social work is based on respect for the inherent worth and dignity of all people, and the rights that follow from this. Social workers should uphold and defend each person’s physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual integrity and well-being.
i) respecting the rights to self determination: Social workers should respect and promote people’s right to make their own choices and decisions, irrespective of their values and life choices, provided this does not threaten the rights and legitimate interests of others.
ii) Promoting the right to participation: Social worker should promote the full involvement and participation of people using their services in ways that enable them to be empowered in all aspects of decisions and actions affecting their lives.
iii) Treating each person as a whole: Social workers should be concerned with the whole person, within the family, community and societal and natural environments, and should seek to recognise all aspects of a person’s life.
iv) Identifying and developing strengths: Social workers should focus on the strengths of all individuals, groups and communities and thus promote their empowerment.
Social workers have a responsibility to promote social justice, in relation to society generally, and in relation to the people with whom they work.
i) Challenging negative discrimination: Social workers have a responsibility to challenge negative discrimination on the basis of characteristics such as ability, age, culture, gender or sex, marital status, socio-economic status, political opinions, skin colour, racial or other physical characteristics, sexual orientation, or spiritual beliefs.
ii) Recognising diversity: Social worker should recognise and respect the ethnic and cultural diversity of societies in which they practice, taking account of individual, family, group and community differences.
iii) Distributing resources equitably: Social workers should ensure that resources at their disposal are distributed fairly, according to need.
iv) Challenging unjust policies and practices: Social workers have a duty to bring to the attention of their employers, policy makers, politicians and the general public situations where resources are inadequate or where distribution of resources, policies and practices are oppressive, unfair or harmful.
v) Working in solidarity: Social workers have an obligation to challenge social conditions that contribute to social exclusion, stigmatisation or subjugation, and to work towards an inclusive society. (IFSW & IASSW, 2004)
Further, the IFSW-AISSW document also enumerates the international conventions for the ready reference of professionals. The section 3 (International Conventions) provides that international human rights declarations and conventions form common standards of achievement, and recognise rights that are accepted by the global community. Documents particularly relevant to social work practice and action are:
In the same document these organizations assert - “we commit to support, influence and promote global initiatives aimed at achieving social and economic equality. We will accomplish this by using and strengthening our established relationships with the UN system and other international agencies. We will support the Millennium Development Goals. Our major focus is to prepare for the post-2015 development agenda, which includes, for example, the social protection floor initiative; decent work and international labour standards; the WHO initiative on the social determinants of health; and education for all. We will strive with others for a people-focused global economy that is regulated to protect and promote social justice, human rights and sustainable development.”
These organizations of social work also state that they would support and work in collaboration with others for the development of strong local communities that promote the sustainable social wellbeing of all their members, with a major focus on strengthening the capacity of communities to interact with their governments to extend social and economic development.
Finally, they state that they would work within their own organisations to promote education and practice standards in social work and social development that enable social workers to facilitate sustainable social development outcomes.
Dominelli (1997) also opines that social work has to work towards realizing the goals of social development as the profession is charged with developing people’s well-being on both personal and collective levels. She feels that most social workers share a belief that their work should make life easier for people by integrating them into society’s institutions and social structures. However, she thinks that there is controversy about how this goal is to be achieved. Moreover, there are a number of ways of going about this task.
Basically, Dominelli believes that there are two approaches to social work: ‘maintenance’ approach and the ‘liberationist’ approach. Those adopting a ‘maintenance’ orientation work to help people adjust better to the prevailing situation. Those who pursue a ‘liberationist’ perspective seek to challenge the status quo and develop progressive alternatives to existing provisions. She argues that whilst both approaches can help in different ways, the liberationist orientation is most relevant to social development because it seeks to enable people to redefine their position and change it for the better. This may mean challenging existing social relations and changing the existing distribution of power and resources. In this process of change, the social worker, according to Dominelli, is an enabler or a catalyst involved in mobilising people and advocating with and for them.
She opines that social workers, as workers who know in detail people’s daily struggles to free themselves from being disempowered by systemic forces of exclusion can act as powerful advocates who: a) highlight their plight by naming and identifying the pain of disenfranchised people; and, b) demand that their situation be substantially improved.
Role for Social Workers
Dominelli (1997) argues that there is a specific place for social work in the context of social development. Acting in the role of facilitators, social workers can engage in translating abstract notions of social development to concrete action which brings about their realisation on the ground. Social workers, therefore, play the key role of partner in the process of bringing about social change at the local level. Their tasks would then become those of:
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