Mental health and the floundering informal worker
World Mental Health Day, observed annually on October 10th, spotlights the theme of ‘mental health as a universal human right.’ Yet, one segment that often remains overlooked within this discourse is the informal worker. These unsung heroes of the labor force form the backbone of India’s workforce. In a country where more than 90% of employment falls within the informal sector, it is essential to recognize the unique challenges they face concerning mental health.
GS-02, GS-03 (Health, Employment, Inclusive growth)
Elaborate on the reasons behind the prevalence of poor mental health among informal workers in India. Propose measures to foster a mentally healthy workforce. (150 words)
Dimensions of the Article:
- The Plight of India’s Informal Workforce
- The Gender Disparities
- The Youth Unemployment
- Aging Workers in a Precarious Situation
- The Role of Social Security
- Reevaluating the Code on Social Security 2020
- Enhancing Mental Healthcare
The Plight of India’s Informal Workforce:
- India’s informal workforce constitutes a staggering majority of over 90% of the country’s labor population. These individuals often toil in harsh conditions, bereft of regulatory protection.
- Their workdays are marked by unsafe environments, grueling hours, and a distinct lack of access to both social and financial safety nets. Moreover, they face the specter of uncertainty, discrimination, and precariousness. This unique combination of challenges takes a toll on their mental well-being.
The Gender Disparities:
- Gender disparities within India’s informal workforce are glaring. More than 95% of the working women in the country find themselves embroiled in informal, low-paying, and precarious employment.
- These female workers are often denied the shelter of social protection. Furthermore, they grapple with patriarchal norms within their professional spheres and in their personal lives. This compounds the mental health struggles they face.
The Youth Unemployment:
- The Lokniti group, part of the Center for the Study of Developing Societies, conducted a survey encompassing 9,316 youths aged between 15 to 34 years across 18 Indian states. Their findings reveal that these young individuals are particularly susceptible to negative emotions.
- The stigma surrounding unemployment further exacerbates their mental health challenges. Alarming trends show that many young workers are reluctantly veering towards more precarious and informal work, accepting lower pay and inferior working conditions due to a lack of viable alternatives. Some are even abandoning the labor force entirely.
- The situation is dire, given India’s demographic landscape, with half of its population falling within the working-age bracket. It is imperative to address the quality of employment and the need for long-term social security measures.
Aging Workers in a Precarious Situation:
- India stands on the brink of becoming an aging society in the next two decades. Currently, 33 million elderly individuals continue working in informal roles even after their retirement. Unfortunately, these aging workers face economic dependence and a lack of financial security and healthcare provisions.
- The absence of a comprehensive plan for financial and healthcare security exacerbates their vulnerability. The situation is alarming, considering the rapid growth of this aging demographic.
The Role of Social Security:
- Informal workers find themselves grappling with mental distress as they struggle to cope with mounting debts and escalating healthcare expenses. These interconnected issues feed into each other, exacerbating the mental health challenges faced by this workforce. Adequate social security measures can play a pivotal role in mitigating these stressors.
- However, India’s social security framework remains inadequate, with inconsistent implementation and budgetary constraints. It is disheartening to note that in 2021, the National Crime Records Bureau reported that 26% of individuals who died by suicide were daily wage earners. This grim statistic underscores the pressing need for robust social security measures.
- These measures can be broadly classified as promotional (focused on income enhancement), preventive (aimed at averting economic distress), and protective (providing relief from external shocks).
Reevaluating the Code on Social Security 2020:
- A critical examination of the Code on Social Security 2020 reveals that the glaring issues concerning social security for India’s informal workforce remain unaddressed.
- The current code fails to articulate the goal of universal social security, a need of paramount importance.
Enhancing Mental Healthcare:
- India’s allocation for mental health in the budget, currently at less than 1% of the total health budget, predominantly centers around digital mental health programs. However, addressing mental health challenges requires a broader approach.
- Strengthening community-based care and adopting people-centered, recovery-oriented, and human rights-oriented care models is essential. Proactive policies that recognize and respond to mental health issues are crucial.
- Upholding the fundamental human right to good mental health is imperative, especially as it aligns with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), notably SDG 3 on ‘good health and well-being’ and SDG 8 on ‘decent work for all/economic growth.’
To combat the mental health challenges plaguing India’s informal workforce, comprehensive measures must be taken:
1. Universal Social Security: Prioritize universal social security measures that ensure informal workers have access to financial support, healthcare, and essential services. Revisit and amend the existing Code on Social Security to explicitly prioritize this objective.
2. Promote Decent Work: Policymakers should focus on creating opportunities for decent employment, particularly for the youth. This entails addressing youth unemployment, improving employment quality, and working towards eradicating the stigma associated with joblessness.
3. Elderly Care: Given India’s aging population, there is an urgent need to develop a comprehensive social security plan for the elderly. This should encompass financial security and access to healthcare.
4. Reform Mental Healthcare: Increase the budget allocation for mental health to meet the growing demand for services. Emphasize community-based care and adopt rights-based approaches to mental health.
Mental health is an inherent human right, and it should extend to India’s informal workforce, which constitutes the majority of the labor force. The challenges faced by these workers, including precarious employment, discrimination, and the lack of social security, have profound implications for their mental well-being.
- To address these issues, India must prioritize universal social security, promote decent work, and reform mental healthcare. Neglecting to take these steps not only infringes upon individuals’ basic rights but also impedes progress toward Sustainable Development Goals related to health and decent work.