Social protection

In sub-Saharan Africa, only one in five older persons receives an old-age pension

A new ILO report disclosed that less than one in five older persons receive an old-age pension which would provide them with a certain level of income security during old age.

Press release | ADDIS ABABA | 30 September 2014
ADDIS ABABA (ILO News) – In sub-Saharan Africa, about 16.9 per cent of older persons receive an old-age pension which would provide him or her with a certain level of income security during old age, says a new report by the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Effective coverage ratios are around 5.9 per cent of the working-age population in sub-Saharan Africa and owing to the high proportion of informal employment in sub-Saharan Africa, only 8.4 per cent of the labour force contributes to pension insurance and earns rights to a contributory pension.

As a result, income in security remains the trend while older men and women must keep working as long as they can – often in poorly paid, precarious conditions.

The ILO study “Social Protection for older persons: Key policy trends and statistics” shows that low-income countries have been expanding pension coverage through a mix of contributory and non-contributory, tax-financed social pensions.

Most developing countries combine contributory systems with a minimum social pension to older persons without a contributory pension (e.g. Lesotho), other countries provide a social pension to all (e.g. Botswana) and some other choose gradual and progressive realization (e.g. South Africa).

The Older Persons’ Grant in South Africa, for example, although means-tested, effectively covers the majority of older people in the country and effectively prevents the recipients and their families from falling into poverty.

Increasing social security contributions/revenues is a major concern in countries like Lesotho, Namibia and South Africa. However, public non-health social protection expenditure for older persons yet accounts for only 1.3 per cent of GDP in Africa, where the share of older persons in the total population is significantly lower.

How well do countries cover their populations for pensions?


Mouse over the chart to see the values
Sources: World Social Protection Report 2014/15, Annex IV, table B.9


Adequate levels of social protection

Currently, levels of legal coverage (contributory and non-contributory schemes, including voluntary coverage) reach 32.8 per cent in Africa – where informality and «unorganized sectors» predominate.

In the Africa region, policies are also built on the assumption that private networks – communities or families – can shoulder the burden of care for older persons, sometimes overlooking limitations in the capacities of family carers (most of whom are women) and the impacts of such unpaid work on the quality of care, the income of care families, and the health and future employability of carers.

Today, countries like Botswana, Lesotho, Mauritius, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa and Swaziland have achieved or nearly achieved universal pension coverage. A few countries in Africa are currently piloting universal old-age social pensions, like Kenya, Uganda and Zambia.
The ILO promotes policies and provides assistance to its member states to help extend adequate levels of social protection to all members of society, including older persons.

The ILO Social Protection Floors Recommendation, 2012 (No. 202), which calls for the extension of social protection coverage, following the principles of universality of coverage, non-discrimination and gender equality, was adopted by 185 countries and further endorsed by G20 leaders and the United Nations.