I once asked the question, “So there’s a welfare programme in Kenya where people receive cash every so often for their sustenance?” That my friends, is what I’ve come to learn is called social protection. Not many Kenyans know about social protection but it is such a key part of our system that it functions in its own department under the Ministry of East African Community, Labour and Social Protection (MEACL&SP).
Social protection has existed in low-income countries in one form or another for a long time. History has it that in the 1960s and 1970s, food subsidies were popular, for example wheat in Egypt and maize in Tanzania. In the 1980s “social safety nets”, exemplified by public works programmes and food-for-work schemes, provided minimal social protection while in the mid-1990s social risk management became the vogue. In African countries, governments, civil society organizations and development partners have all been involved in social protection initiatives, which run alongside formal and informal mechanisms of social support.
In Kenya, social protection is currently high on the development agenda. It is in line with the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which aim to address governance, economic, social and environmental challenges. Notably, the SDGs and millennium development goals have been given the mainstage in the Kenya Vision 2030, which aims to provide a high quality of life for all its citizens by the year 2030. Through the Vision, Kenya aims to be a primarily middle-income country. This provides impetus for the Government to increase investment in social protection to the levels invested in comparable countries.
So what is social protection?
Social protection in Kenya is defined as: policies and actions, including legislative measures, that enhance the capacity of and opportunities for the poor and vulnerable to improve and sustain their lives, livelihoods, and welfare, that enable income-earners and their dependents to maintain a reasonable level of income through decent work, and that ensure access to affordable healthcare, social security and social assistance. “The overarching goal of social protection is to ensure that all Kenyans live in dignity and exploit their human capabilities to further their own social and economic development” (insert Image)
It is clear from the definition that social protection covers three main components, social security, social assistance and social health insurance. The first, social security, which most of us are aware of, includes provisions for the economic security and social welfare of workers and their dependents in the case of income losses due to unemployment, work injury, maternity, old age and death. Social assistance refers to non-contributory transfer programmes aimed at preventing the poor or those who are vulnerable to shocks from falling below a certain poverty line. Lastly, social health insurance aims to finance and manage healthcare based on risk pooling i.e. it pulls the health risks of the people on one hand and the contributions of individuals, households, enterprises and the Government on the other.
The Government of Kenya in collaboration with development partners is implementing a wide range of social transfers in the form of cash transfers, farm input and food for assets/ cash for assets. Evidence shows that these programmes have led to reduction in poverty levels, increase in food expenditure and dietary diversity in the beneficiary households. The relative merits vs demerits of cash and food transfers have given rise to heated debate in the social protection sphere. The debate surrounds the issue of conditionality versus unconditionality in the issuance and use of cash/ assets given, the question of targeting versus universal provision, and the concern that social transfers render people dependent and limiting the likelihood of beneficiaries exiting/graduating from the interventions.
Although social protection is in essence a poverty-reducing strategy, a key policy challenge in African countries is how to align it with poverty reduction programmes. An amalgam of lack of political commitment, weak institutional capacity and contextually inappropriate social welfare models, together with inadequate financial resources; have worked against the expansion of social protection in many African countries.
With this backdrop, the drafting of a National Social Protection Bill in Kenya is in motion. The bill aims to harmonize and integrate the three components of social protection and link it to key stakeholders in the social protection sector including government ministries and agencies, the private sector, communities, households and other non-state actors. Stakeholders in the SP environment including Partnership for African Social and Governance Research (PASGR) and the African Institute for Health and Development (AIHD) are supporting the Ministry in the development the bill. The MEACL&SP plans to table it before Parliament in October of 2016.
I was privileged to sit through the technical bits of refining of the draft bill and was amazed at the amount of work that goes into the development of any legislation. So many brilliant minds sat together and input their best into making better something that was already pretty good in my view.
I cannot wait to see the outcome of the entire process.
Walk with me!
Written by J Adongo Ligare