There is no single or commonly agreed concept of a welfare state. Broadly, it is a state that recognises the right of citizens to life. It stands ready to devote resources to assist those who cannot work — children and mothers, senior citizens and the physically and mentally handicapped. It also provides for temporary periods of unemployment of those able to work but cannot find work. In addition, some form of heath cover for all characterises all welfare states.
There are various models in existence. On the one extreme is the neoliberal “workfare” state of the United States. Canadians sometimes joke that they will all migrate to the United States if only it had the universal health cover available in Canada.
On the other extreme is the Swedish model which not only has the most effective social coverage in the world, but is also avowedly redistributive by imposing the highest rates of taxes on income and wealth. In between are the institutional model of the United Kingdom and the social market model of Germany. In the former, a minimum income, protection against insecurity and effective service delivery are guaranteed.
The German model promises economic development to create opportunities for all and social assistance related to the level of earnings. It involves private sector in a corporatist structure, especially health insurance. Nearly all models uphold the principle of subsidiarity and decentralisation.
Social protection in China is not yet consistent with the level of its economic development. Though fragmented, it does offer a minimum subsistence guarantee, and the delivery is localised.
Pakistan’s founding fathers talked about welfare, social justice, and Islamic welfare, but the Pakistani concept of welfare had to wait until the 1973 Constitution. The relevant articles of the constitution were, however, taken seriously neither by the governments, elected or not, nor by the political class and civil society players.
It was left to Allama Qadri to launch the most extensive awareness campaign known to this country on the concept of welfare state enshrined in the constitution. It has been explained in minute details and in an intelligible manner to the ordinary people for the first time in his recent 24/7 telecasts.
Article 3 promises elimination of all forms of exploitation. Article 24 (3) (e) enables acquisition of property for the purposes of providing education and medical aid, water supply, housing, and providing maintenance to the unemployed, the sick and the old. Article 25A has been added to provide free and compulsory education to all children. Article 37 has nine clauses specifying the promotion of social justice and eradication of social evils. Article 38 contains seven clauses on the promotion of social and economic well-being of the people.
The response of the governments has been haphazard and minimalist. It has taken the form of political programmes like the five point programme, donor guided social action programme, and social protection strategy and the religious programmes of zakat and bait ul mal.
A half-hearted effort has been in place to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) was the first major programme after the social security measures introduced by Nur Khan in late sixties and ZAB in early seventies.
All told, social spending has never exceeded a pitifully low 4 per cent of GDP. Annual reports required by the constitution on the implementation of principles of policy have been infrequent and a non-serious affair. Article 29 says that this implementation is subject to availability of resources. Resource mobilisation has not been the strong point of any government in Pakistan.
Our tendency to promise too much and the habit of not putting our money where our mouth is requires a smart selection of goals and targets and then going all out for them.
Let us pick only two goals — education and health for all — fix appropriate targets and go all out in terms of resources. Let the elected local governments be the delivery agent. An educated and healthy citizenry will ensure the desired reform of our economy, polity, and society.