top of page

During campaign season before the Tamil Nadu legislative assembly election, Kamal Hassan’s Makkal Neethi Manram announced that if elected, it would be willing to give subsidies or ‘income’ to women doing household chores. This promise re-ignited the considerably old debate of providing free cash transfers to women for their unpaid work. Will such a scheme benefit the non-working women it means to empower? Or instead, will such a move have adverse social and psychological effects? Will this initiative have a ‘Cobra Effect’? Finally, can any government actually afford this scheme?


The ILO defines unpaid work as “non-remunerated work carried out to sustain the well-being and maintenance of other individuals in a household or the community, and it includes both direct and indirect care”. In India, according to the NSSO, as high as 94% of women are forced to do unpaid labour work, but contrastingly, only 20% of men are engaged in this type of work. This disparity clearly suggests that women in India are unpaid for doing work that is crucial for the well-being of society. When considered on these lines, the aforementioned initiative, prima facie, looks like a relevant measure. This move provides a monetary value to the household work performed predominantly by women so as to instil in them a sense of confidence and independence. This can help them break free from their supressed environments and make a living for themselves, resulting in overall social upliftment.

Such a scheme of cash transfers will raise the tax burden on regular earners, but only marginally – due to the concept of concentrated benefits and dispersed costs. Also, these transfers can actually help increase government revenues, because when the disposable incomes of women will increase, they will spend that money, initiating a money multiplier effect. This will prove to be beneficial for the economy, especially when the state finances have suffered a huge blow due to the lockdown. This will also help those families who are currently not able to manage their needs due to the low income of the male members of the family.


As rosy as the scheme sounds, it comes with its own demerits and social costs. Such income transfers will lead to a more discriminatory and oppressive social structure for women, as many conservative families may look down upon the women of the household for ‘earning’ (sometimes even higher amounts than the working men) real money for no ‘real work’. Such a scheme, that rewards household work by women, will ensure that women will be forced to or expected to do household chores. Household work will not be seen as work that caters to the needs of the family but as the duty of women to support their families, crushing their hopes and future aspirations. Thus, the scheme may threaten to reduce the labour participation rate of women.

It will even discourage parents from sending their daughters to schools – a more harrowing scenario than anything else, especially when the girl child literacy rate is starting to show an increase in Tamil Nadu (currently pegged at 96.8%). This may cause long-term damage to employment and to the economy, as women will be barred from entering the skilled workforce. Further, it is difficult to develop a defined structure to identify and classify the target audience of the scheme, and for how payments will be made and transferred – if made on a flat basis, then the amounts paid would not suffice for women tasked with raising a child or taking care of ailing parents/ in-laws; if made in a customized manner, then there is the risk of various agitations and grievances.


In the status quo prevailing in the country, especially due to the pandemic, women have reported an increased number of domestic violence cases, so it becomes imperative that women, especially poor women who are dependents, be given an income source. However, this scheme threatens to set gender roles down in stone – if introduced, it needs to come into force along with some other incentives: for example, to make sure that girl child education remains unaffected, the government can introduce a pre-requisite that only families that send their daughters to school are eligible for the scheme. Further, the government should run awareness campaigns that those families who don’t require the benefits of such a scheme should voluntarily opt out, just like in the UJJWALA scheme run by the central government. With the correct, well-thought out additions, and with restraint, this scheme of ‘pay for household work’ may be a step in the right direction.

By Hardik Kapoor


bottom of page