Mental health and the floundering informal worker – Mental Health and India’s Informal Workforce | 10 October 2023 | UPSC Daily Editorial Analysis

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What's the article about?

  • It talks about the mental health aspect of the unemployment and unorganised workers of India.


  • GS2: Issues Relating to Development and Management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.


  • The theme of World Mental Health Day (October 10) this year is ‘mental health as a universal human right’.
  • A study by the International Labour Organization (ILO) says that 15% of working-age adults, globally, live with a mental disorder. However, informal workers are often overlooked when it concerns mental health.


  • Impact of Work on Mental Health:
    • Decent work influences mental health in a positive way while unemployment, unstable or precarious employment, workplace discrimination, or poor and particularly unsafe working environments, can all pose a risk to a worker’s mental health.
    • Workers in low-paid, unrewarding or insecure jobs, or working in isolation, are more likely to be exposed to psychosocial risks, thus compromising their mental health.
  • India's Informal Workforce:
    • India’s informal workforce accounts for more than 90% of the working population.
    • These workers often operate without regulatory protection, work in unsafe working environments, endure long hours, have little access to social or financial protections, suffer high uncertainty and deep precarity, and face discrimination — all of which further undermine mental health and limit access to mental health care.
    • Gender disparities are also stark, with over 95% of India’s working women engaged in informal, low-paying, and precarious employment, often without social protection, in addition to suffering patriarchal structures and practices in their social and familial spaces.
  • Impact on Youth and Elderly:
    • Youth unemployment is one of the highest in India, which, along with the stigma around unemployment, significantly impacts their mental health.
    • Moreover, an ILO report highlights how young workers are shifting to more precarious and informal work, accepting less pay and poorer working conditions, out of desperation, and, sometimes, giving up and exiting the labour force altogether.
    • The State of Inequality in India Report 2022 observes that the unemployment rate actually increases with educational levels, particularly for educated young women who show an unemployment rate of 42%.
    • With this phase of demographic dividend, where half of India’s population is of working age and projected to remain so for two decades, it is pertinent to think about the quality of employment and long-term social security for them.
    • India will also become an aging society in 20 years, with no apparent social security road map for this rapidly growing group that is especially vulnerable to poor mental health.
    • The Census of India 2011 shows that 33 million elderly people are working post-retirement in informal work. Another study, by the ILO on elderly employment in India, shows high poverty among them, in terms of economic dependency and access to financial assets.
    • The absence of proper financial and health-care security among the working elderly can severely impact their physical and mental health, aggravating their vulnerability.
  • Social Security and Mental Health:
    • Informal workers face mental distress due to accumulating debt and rising health-care costs, which are intertwined and mutually reinforcing. Employment guarantee programmes can indeed improve mental health outcomes.
    • Thus, social security can be: promotional, aiming to augment income; preventive, aiming to forestall economic distress and protective, aiming to ensure relief from external shocks.
    • A relook at the Code on Social Security 2020 shows how glaring issues concerning the social security of India’s informal workforce still remain unheeded.
    • While India should universalise social security, the current Code does not state this as a goal.

Way Forward:

  • Informal workers, despite their significant contribution to national income, are perennially exposed to various economic, physical, and mental vulnerabilities.
  • India’s budgetary allocation for mental health (currently under 1% of the total health budget) has over-focused on the digital mental health programme.
  • There is an urgent need for proactive policies to improve mental health recognition and action.
  • This is critical in upholding the basic human right to good health, including mental health, and in advancing to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially SDG 3 on ‘good health and well-being’ and SDG 8 on ‘decent work for all/economic growth’.

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