Since the days of the Grand Coalition government (2008-2013), Kenya has sought to expand social protection of poor people under the National Safety Net Programme, now called Inua Jamii.
Under the Inua Jamii programme, the government provides cash to poor orphans and vulnerable children, people aged above 65 years and those with severe disabilities. The National Hospital Insurance Fund cover is also being rolled out to some beneficiaries.
Whereas the safety net programme has expanded from 227,969 beneficiaries in 2013 to 718,383 beneficiaries in 2017, many more needy people are not reached by Inua Jamii.
According to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2014, about 1,012,000 people — or 2.2 per cent of the population — are aged 65 years and above.
The cash transfer value to orphans and vulnerable children, old persons and persons with severe disabilities was set at Ksh1,500 ($15) per beneficiary household per month in 2007, covering about 12 per cent of the poverty line of about Ksh12,500 ($125) per month per household then.
This was close to covering the poverty gap of about 16.3 per cent, or Ksh2,038 ($20) per month, which was the money needed to bring a poor household to the absolute poverty line at that time.
In December 2011, the cash transfer value was raised to Ksh2,000 ($20). It is now Ksh2,500 ($25) per month, well below the inflation-adjusted amount — Ksh2,885 ($28.85) — they should be receiving. (Since December 2011, inflation has increased significantly. The Consumer Price Index was 130.09 in December 2011 but stood at 187.64 in May 2017.)
The purchasing power of these poor orphaned and vulnerable children, old persons and people with severe disabilities has deteriorated. They cannot afford “unga” (maize flour), milk, sugar, education and health care. This view is supported by the “Inua Jamii Progress Report” of March 2016 by the Ministry of EAC, Labour and Social Protection.
But social protection is not reaching most of those in need. The government should aim to double its coverage from the current 718,383 to 1,436,766 beneficiaries in the 2018-19 fiscal year and pay them an inflation-indexed amount (that is, Ksh2,885 per month).
Were the government to do that, it would spend just Ksh49.7 billion ($497 million) per year, or a mere 1.91 per cent of the 2017-18 budget. If the government instead paid Ksh3,500 per month as proposed by National Super Alliance flag bearer Raila Odinga, it would need Ksh60.3 billion ($603 million) per year, which is 2.3 per cent of the 2017-18 budget — a reasonable expenditure.
It is a constitutional responsibility of the government of Kenya to support extremely poor and destitute persons. Article 43 (1) of the Constitution of Kenya provides that every person has the right to the highest attainable standard of health, education, adequate housing, adequate food of acceptable quality, sanitation, clean water and to social security, including non-contributory social security for people who are unable to support themselves.
It is a responsibility the national and county governments cannot run away from because Article 20 (5) of the Constitution provides that if the state claims that it does not have the resources to implement the rights in Article 43, a court, tribunal or other authority shall make decisions on these rights asserting the principles that it is the responsibility of the state to show that the resources are not available; and ensure the widest possible enjoyment of the right or fundamental freedom having regard to prevailing circumstances, including the vulnerability of particular groups or individuals.
The government should do more for poor people, but we all have to rally together because, traditionally, African families and communities come together to assist each other in times of need.
The Inua Jamii Progress Report 2016 cites delays in payments to beneficiaries and absence of a functional grievance redress mechanism (GRM) among problems in the programme.
There is a need for a robust GRM involving the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, the civil society organisations and communities to report cases of bias, corruption, denial of entitlements, delayed payments, and other complaints for investigation, resolution and prosecution of culpable people where evidence of corruption is sufficient.
In addition, there should be a functional toll-free number, e-mail addresses and offices where complaints can be reported and logged, investigated and resolved in agreed timeframes.
Beneficiary welfare committees should be formed and encouraged as part of the GRM for regular elections by beneficiaries, remain active at all times and work closely with implementing and anti-corruption agencies to report, monitor and educate beneficiaries on rights, entitlements and resolution of complaints.
A committee comprising the ministry, counties, EACC, civil society representatives should monitor these complaints and actions taken to resolve them and address any challenges in the system.
Though a number of companies have invested in communities and assisting children, youth and others who are needy, many more need to join in.
For sustainability, it is important for policies to be developed and legislation to be enacted to expand the National Social Security Fund to include contributions for the risk of unemployment and incapacity to work, paid by employees, employers, people in informal engagements and government.
Benefits would then be paid to contributors and beneficiaries out of these funds in the event of unemployment, disability, incapacity to work or death.
Tony Sisule has advised on social protection programmes for the poor as United Nations Staff member. He researches on charitable work. [email protected]