Despite sustained economic growth, poverty and vulnerability continue to affect large sections of society and we still have more work to do. While poverty rates have declined from 52.2% in 2000 to an estimate of less than 40%, the number of poor in Kenya remains high. Poverty and vulnerability is not evenly spread in Kenya. On average, almost three-quarters of the people in arid and semi-arid areas live below the poverty line, with the highest incidence of poverty being 96% in Turkana. Furthermore, around three-quarters of children in Kenya - 15 million - are unable to enjoy at least one of their rights as provided in the Constitution.
Social protection is an important part of the government’s strategy to fight poverty and vulnerability, and promote sustained economic growth and resilience to shocks such as drought. Governments, globally and in this region, recognize that social protection is a crucial component of national development strategies for achieving inclusive, pro-poor, and equitable growth. Brazil’s remarkable success in reducing poverty and inequality in the 2000s can be attributed to expanding Bolsa Familia, a family grant conditional on sending children to school and using preventive health services.
Social protection is also a tool for governments to realize human rights. In Kenya, social protection is enshrined in the Bill of Rights of the Constitution. We applaud this. Moreover, social protection contributes to social and economic rights, particularly for those excluded from society. For example, studies show that children benefitting from these programs are more likely to attend school, are better nourished and healthier than poor and vulnerable children who do not receive cash transfers.
However, the needs are still greater than the response and we must invest more in social protection programs. Cash transfers for poor and vulnerable households have expanded significantly, though coverage still remains low, reaching less than 10% of the population. The government and the development partners have invested significantly in these schemes and are working in close partnership to expand and strengthen these important programs.
Let me mention some of the achievements we have made so far:
Expansion of cash transfers: Over the past 10 years, the government has launched cash transfers for older persons, orphans and vulnerable children and persons living with severe disabilities. These programs today provide cash transfers to over 400,000 households in Kenya. Since 2004, development partners have provided funding and technical assistance aimed at building capacity to deliver these programs to all parts of the country. For example, the very first Cash Transfer Programme for Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) was initiated in that year by the Government, with support from Sweden and UNICEF. Early evaluations of this program showed important results such as improved child health and increased income opportunities for beneficiary households. These positive results have encouraged the Government to use its own resources to scale up social protection programs. We highly commend the Government for this.
Cash transfers for the arid and semi-arid lands: In 2008, under the then Ministry of Northern Kenya, DFID and the then AusAID began to pilot the Hunger Safety Net Program (HSNP) in the poorest, drought prone counties of Turkana, Wajir, Marsabit and Mandera. It wanted to test an alternative to ad-hoc, often late and costly emergency food aid. The HSNP has had positive impacts on poverty, food security, education and health spending. The program is now expanding and the Government is increasing its support in what is now seen as a flagship program for Kenya. HSNP makes electronic payments directly into beneficiary bank accounts and aims to reach up to 100,000 households with regular transfers. It is also aiming to open bank accounts for over 275,000 more people, in order to provide them with emergency cash transfers in a time of drought. This is a useful platform for the Government and development partners to use in any future, early “no-regrets” response.
Cash for Assets Program: The Government, with support from WFP and USAID, launched the Cash-for-Assets program, whose goal is to create productive assets that build resilience to drought across the arid and semi-arid lands, and to provide predictable cash transfers to 65,000 food insecure households. The program is growing and is now supported by a broad group of development partners including the governments of Sweden, Germany, Japan, Canada, the United States and Finland. Similarly, the cash-based national schools meals program addresses children’s short-term hunger and improves their ability to concentrate and learn in primary schools across the arid and semi-arid regions, and provides a predictable market for local producers.
The National Safety Net Program: In FY2013/14, your Government doubled its budgetary allocation to all the cash transfer programs. In the same year, the Government, with support from the World Bank, and other partners, launched the National Safety Net Program. The NSNP is a US$250 million four-year program designed to improve the welfare and resilience of beneficiaries harmonizing the cash transfers for older persons, orphans and vulnerable children, persons with severe disabilities and the HSNP. It is supported through a Program-for-Results, which means the World Bank disburses funds to the Government after it achieves results we have jointly agreed. For example, ensuring any expansion of programs and their targeting is poverty focused; or making sure payments reach beneficiaries on time. This is the first Social Protection program globally to be supported in this way, and the first program of this kind to be implemented in Kenya. We are learning together as we blaze a trail globally!
These efforts have helped to strengthen program governance and accountability and harmonize delivery systems, while also increasing the scale of the programs. The coverage of the cash transfer programs in the NSNP has grown from 500 households in 2004 to almost 500,000 households in 2014.
Today, cash transfers are supported by innovative delivery mechanisms that help to reduce benefit errors and fraud. This includes the use of biometric authentication, smartcards and bank accounts, to deliver timely, secure and efficient payments to beneficiaries all over the country. Beneficiaries can use a smart card to access their payments electronically from Point of Sale devices at local businesses, banks, or other agents close to where they live, reducing travel costs and injecting those resources back to the local economy.
While access to quality healthcare is a constitutional right, health insurance remains out of reach to millions of Kenyans who cannot afford to pay for health services at public or private clinics. But, thanks to a collaborative Health Insurance Subsidy Program (HISP), launched by the Government last year, this trend is being reversed. HISP extends financial risk protection to Kenya’s poorest by providing them with a health insurance subsidy, which covers both inpatient and outpatient care in public and private health facilities. The program is supported by the World Bank Group, and other development partners including DFID and the African Health Markets for Equity program.
The development partners are also aware that there is a draft National Social Security Fund Bill whose intention is to address the main existing challenges to Social Security so as to increase benefit levels, expand coverage of the scheme and to better manage the fund resources. We, therefore, look forward to working jointly with the Government to enhance the functioning of the NSSF.
Social Protection Policy: Finally, it is important to recognize that these developments have been underpinned in the draft National Social Protection Policy, which was approved by the Cabinet in 2012. We look forward to this Bill being enacted into law.
The Development Partners represented here are committed to providing the necessary support to improve the social protection sector in Kenya, in line with the country’s development priorities.
Let me take this opportunity to once again thank you, Your Excellency, for being here with us. It demonstrates the importance that you personally, and your Government, attach to the welfare of all Kenyans.