Who should get government welfare benefits?

A data interactive shows the state-level picture if govt makes the recently released numbers on economic wellbeing the basis of who it includes and excludes


Photo: HT
Photo: HT

For Angus Deaton, the winner of the Nobel Prize for economics this year, poverty and its measurement has been an area of interest and practice, especially in the Indian context. While being critical of poverty estimation frameworks adopted by India, he makes a case for delinking welfare benefits from poverty estimates.

Interestingly, after the poverty line, the Indian government is looking to move to a new framework to determine beneficiaries of welfare entitlements. This framework is grounded in the Socio Economic Caste Census (SECC), the numbers for which were released this July for rural India.

The data visualization below shows the impact this new framework, if adopted, will have at the state level in terms of inclusion and exclusion. SECC divides households into three brackets:

Automatic exclusion: SECC looks at 14 questions relating to attributes like income, asset ownership and living standards. If a household has answered ‘yes’ to any one of these 14 questions, it is automatically excluded from government welfare schemes. Across India, around 40% of households fall in this bucket.

Automatic inclusion: It also looks at five questions related to social position and standard of living. If a household answers ‘yes’ to even one, it is automatically eligible for welfare schemes. Across India, less than 1% of households were placed in this category.

Conditional inclusion: That leaves about 59% of households. To place them, the SECC looks at seven questions on deprivation to assess a household’s social and economic vulnerability.

Scores for each household will be calculated, depending on their responses to the seven deprivation criteria. Those scoring above a cutoff could be included in the beneficiaries’ list, others left out.

In this framework, the key question will be where the government sets the cutoff. The range is wide: while 18% of households across India answered ‘yes’ to any one of the seven deprivation criteria, only 1% did so for all seven. The differences are also stark across different types of households: for instance, 45% of general households will be excluded in this framework, but only 21% of tribal households. It could well come down to a number.

Chart 1 shows where different states are, based on SECC questions. Slide the deprivation criteria filter to see the change and use the drop down to select different types of households.

Chart 2 visualizes all SECC data for all states for six kind of households. Click on smaller charts to view them in greater detail. Charts where all points are vertically aligned indicate lower inter-state variations.

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