Beneficiaries of the cash transfer programme have a reason to smile after President William Ruto directed that their payment be prioritised ahead of public servants’ salaries starting June this year.
That money will hit their accounts first before government workers are paid will come as a major relief to the elderly under the social protection programme, an initiative that has often seen beneficiaries wait for up to six or seven months before the funds are deposited in their accounts.
The President made the announcement while opening the Social Protection Conference at the Kenya School of Government in Nairobi yesterday. Dr Ruto said the welfare of vulnerable groups cannot be sacrificed to achieve economic development.
“Social protection cannot wait until 2030 when we will have achieved our economic goals. We must undertake both commitments simultaneously,” he said.
Dr Ruto announced that the government will be effecting the remittance of six per cent of employees’ salaries to the National Social Security Fund to increase their savings and safeguard their future upon retirement.
The President also directed the State Department of Social Protection and the State Law Office to liaise with parliamentary leadership and put in place the necessary legislative framework to actualise the Social Assistance Fund for vulnerable groups.
Going forward, he added, the government will increase its employee’s pension savings from 11 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to about 25 per cent in the next 10 to 15 years.
“Old age poverty is one of the biggest problems we have in Kenya and it is because we have not built a culture of saving…savings are not tax, it is not a burden, it is your money that you have set aside for that day that you will need it desperately,” he said.
The government has set aside Sh28 billion to support cash transfer programmes implemented by State Department for Social Protection. These programmes include funds for the elderly, orphans and vulnerable children, persons with severe disabilities, for poor and vulnerable households in regions designated as arid and semi-arid lands and the Inua Jamii Programme.
“We [will] ring-fence budgetary allocations for social protection programmes and [ensure] they are fiscally sustainable,” President Ruto said.
Since the introduction of subsidised contributions to the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF), at least 223,968 vulnerable households with NHIF membership have accessed health services, including cancer care.
The government has also pledged to ensure food security and eradicate malnutrition in children, which increases susceptibility to other diseases and the cost of treatment.
“In 2014, the Cost of Hunger Survey estimated that costs associated with underweight children were Sh13.1billion, while those associated with acute respiratory infections, acute diarrhoea syndrome, fever and malaria was Sh808.5million,” the Head of State said.
On her part, Labour and Social Protection Cabinet Secretary Florence Bore called for increased funding to the social protection programme, terming it crucial in improving the welfare of 20 million vulnerable Kenyans.
“The current funding of social protection is about 0.7 per cent of our GDP. We appeal for support to ensure enhanced coverage of the sizeable number of the poor and vulnerable groups who are yet to be reached,” she said.
UN Resident Coordinator in Kenya Steve Jackson termed social protection as the “Nairobi Expressway to Kenya’s thriving economy” without which families will be trapped in a lifetime of poverty, even for generations.
“Social protection, combined with other interventions in health and nutrition, brings a double effect pushing the poor families forward,” he said.
Central Organisation Trade Union Secretary-General Francis Atwoli voiced the need for universal social protection by building sustainable systems that would cover each and every member of vulnerable groups in the society.