By Krishangi Singh:
An equal society. How many times have we heard this phrase? We were taught about it in social science lectures. We discussed it in some economics class assignments too. Yet, do any of us remember really comprehending the gravity of this phrase?
Raju, an eight-year-old son of an economically deprived family, leads a hopeful existence today. He goes to the nearest primary school each day, where he gets free books, free clothes and free mid-day meals under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan scheme. His healthcare checkups are regularly conducted through the school in the nearest government hospital to ensure his well being. Raju doesn’t know where the money for his education and healthcare comes from, nor does his father.
Millions of other children in India are currently availing these beneficiary basic public services through various government schemes. These free public services are provided for from the tax funds collected from the country’s tax payers. In simple words, the tax you pay each month does not simply go and sit in some political leaders’ pockets, it provides basic services for families like that of Raju’s.
Raju’s father does not own the financial resources to support his family without the help of government provided services. If asked to pay for their son’s education and healthcare, Raju’s father will probably have to pull his son out of school and send him to work. He would then be the ‘chotu’ on the tea stall near your office or the child working as a domestic help in some rich households.
According to a study by Oxfam, ‘Working for the Many’ on average, in OECD countries, public services are worth the equivalent of a huge 76 per cent of the post-tax income of the poorest group, and just 14 per cent of the richest. This means that if the government did not provide virtual income through public services, the poorest group living in OECD countries would spend on average over three-quarters of their available money just on health and education.
Thus, washing dishes and pouring tea is probably all the skill Raju will have by the time he grows up if he does not get free education. The lack of education will not only end his own dream of being financially stable but also those of his generations to come. What we see is that the lack of public services on one stage can affect many more to come, resulting in severe loss of economy.
Raju may not be the topper of his class, he may bunk classes to go and watch local cinema, but is that not what each childhood demands? It is free public services that allow him to have a happier childhood and brighter future prospects without compromising the current financial stability of his family.
The ‘virtual income’ of a family i.e. the paid services a family avails from government schemes, is what keeps them economically stable. In case of non-implementation of these services, millions of families will be left without access to these basic services without which they cannot hope to develop and prosper.
Similarly, the lack of healthcare service can push a family into financial catastrophe. At some point in life, we have all witnessed families sitting outside government hospitals, distressed over their inability to pay for a loved one’s treatment. Imagine if the cheap healthcare services, which are still unable to help many sections of society, are taken away then how many families will be left to the devices of ‘neem-hakim’ and in many a cases, to the hands of death.
‘Working for the Many’, the Oxfam study, revealed that lowering the income share of the richest 20 per cent by just one percentage point could save the lives of 90,000 infants each year. The study also showed that economic inequality is also putting lives on the line as 1.5 million lives are lost each year due to high income inequality in rich countries alone.
Thus it becomes extremely vital for any country to focus on healthcare and education services, especially for a middle-income country like India. These services help to ensure that wealth and resources does not rest with one particular segment of society alone. Not only does it assist economic equality by virtually providing income through free public services but it also allows scope for economical development and a better standard of living.
The moment’s need is to focus on better implementation and reach of basic public services. We need these services to ensure that Raju and other children of his age are not forced to sell ‘chai’ on the next stall.