The 2023/2024 Budget Policy Statement (BPS), tabled in Parliament in February as the Finance Bill 2023, contains provisions that communicated to some needs of vulnerable members of society, including persons with disabilities (PWDs).
First, provisions such as inclusion and employment opportunities for vulnerable members of society could be understood as seeking to cure discriminative and exclusionary tendencies and behaviours that are prevalent in some sections of society. The unemployment rate is high—at 4.9 per cent, according to the Kenya Bureau of Statistics—and, for PWDs, way above the national average.
Equal opportunity to access work and employment for PWDs forms the substratum of naturally eliminating barriers to participation. According to the UN, in developing countries, 80 per cent to 90 per cent of PWDs of working age are unemployed, so the effort to address livelihood issues for PWDs is significant, including ring-fencing an adequate percentage of the Hustler Fund for PWDs.
Secondly, the provisions on social protection—on resourcing and revamping the social safety nets programmes, including Cash Transfer to Persons with Severe Disabilities (CT-PWSD) and 100 per cent NHIF coverage for PWDs—serve to ensure that PWDs and their families have adequate standards of living as envisioned in our legal frameworks.
Lastly, the intent to set aside 15 per cent of public-funded bursaries for learners and trainees with disabilities and partnering to address mental health conditions are in line with the agenda to empower PWDs.
There has to be some level of appreciation of the BPS, especially for the disability sector. However, the taxation proposals contained in the bill are likely to have a negative impact on PWDs’ livelihoods. PWDs experience myriad barriers that hinder them from effectively participating in socio-economic activities.
Inaccessibility to educational systems by the larger population of learners and trainees with disabilities contributes to the lack of skills and competencies necessary in the job market, hence the wider gap in the unemployment rates among PWDs.
Depend on stipend
Most PWDs, compared to people without disabilities, have no access to formal and dependable sources of livelihood; they are engaged in the informal sector, where they eke out a living for themselves and their families.
Others depend on the government stipend to get by. When the cost of living becomes high for other Kenyans, it is magnified ten-fold for PWDs. Any envisioned system change will impact PWDs more than anyone else.
To participate in the affairs of society, PWDs have to incur extra costs; for instance, if a PWD needs to attend a public participation event, they might be forced to seek private means of transport and, hence, pay extra as opposed to a person who can walk or use the relatively cheaper public transport.
With VAT on the fuel being doubled to 16 per cent, it becomes almost impossible for PWDs to fully participate in society affairs such as governance and development agenda, pushing them further to the margins of society, contrary to what our Constitution envisages.
A significant percentage of PWDs are engaged in the informal sector—mostly micro, small and medium enterprises (SMEs). With the changes upsetting the global supply chain and other marketplace variables, including the extra cost of running and managing their small businesses, PWDs are barely managing. The proposed three per cent increase in turnover tax will eventually pressure PWD-owned SMEs to close shop.
PWDs who operate outlets such as salons, barbershops or beauty shops will also be forced to grapple with dwindling business opportunities as five per cent on beauty products will be imposed. The Finance Bill needs to align itself with aspirations and spirit of pronouncements on inclusivity in the BPS and the Constitution and not freeze PWDs’ right to inclusion and participation.
Should the bill be passed in its current form, the proposed taxation on basic commodities is likely to make life harder for PWDs, exacerbating the difficulties they face in navigating their barrier-laden lives.
Mr Wambua is a disability rights advocate with United Disabled Persons of Kenya (UDPK). [email protected].