Global Campaign for Social Security hits its stride

The recent launch of a national campaign to provide Kenya's population with social security was the latest in a series of events designed to expand the ILO's Global Campaign on Social Security and Coverage for All. With half its population living below the poverty line and less than 15 per cent of the total labour force covered by social security systems, Kenya has adopted the campaign as a framework for extending national pension and health coverage to more of its citizens. This year, the ILO intends to expand the programme to include more countries. Guebray Berhane of ILO Addis Ababa reports.

Article | 24 January 2005

NAIROBI – Kenya is trying a new campaign for social security on for size. In this central African country, poverty is a pressing moral, political and economic concern. It particularly hits the elderly, the poor, the sick and the unemployed among Kenya's 30 million citizens. The social security systems in place mainly benefit workers in the formal sector. Population growth and high rates of unemployment, sickness and poverty have now prompted a new emphasis on the protection of income maintenance and social security systems.

The challenges are daunting. Some 80 per cent of Kenyans work in rural areas, mainly in small-scale farming and crop growing. Most live in large extended families whose members have worked together for generations on family farms. Accordingly, the concept of social security hasn't fully spread from the mostly urban formal sector and to the rural farms and informal workplaces. Thus, extending social security coverage in the country will be challenging.

In an effort to encourage harmonization of labour laws and the development of all-inclusive social security policies in the sub-region, the Kenyan government – with the support of the ILO – launched a national initiative of the ILO's Global Campaign on Social Security and Coverage for All in Nairobi last December. The move was not only important to the country's 32 million people, but underscored the rising concern over the need for social security in countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The Kenyan launch reflects the positive experiences gained from setting up and coordinating a network of mutual health organizations in Central and West Africa, which the ILO is now promoting here and in other East African countries. What is more, in 2005, Nigeria and India are expected to host national launches of the Global Campaign on Social Security and Coverage for All begun at the International Labour Conference in 2003. The ILO previously organized similar launches in Mozambique, Senegal and Nepal in 2004.

The campaign reflects a global consensus on the part of governments and employers' and workers' organizations to broaden social security coverage, particularly in the informal economy, and raise awareness worldwide about the role of social security in economic and social development.

The Campaign was designed to be adapted to the specific situation in a country. "There is no one size fits all solution", says Emmanuel Reynaud, Director of the ILO's Social Security Policy and Development Branch.

Mobilizing key actors

The Kenya launch was intended to mobilize key actors – the government, employers' and workers' organizations, the National Social Security Fund (NSSF), civil society organizations – on how the Campaign can support initiatives to broaden social security coverage.

Assane Diop, ILO Executive Director for Social Protection, says Kenya's commitment is "based on the conviction that every Kenyan should benefit from at least a minimum level of social security. Social protection, which takes a special place in the context of a strategy for poverty reduction and decent work, is the best way to reach the Millennium Development Goals", he says, drawing attention to the need to build a solid partnership among all stakeholders.

According to Edgar Manasseh, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Kenya's National Social Security Fund, "this will help in making Kenyans realise that their social well being and plans for future social welfare are now receiving attention from the national policy makers, with a sympathetic hearing from the international community".

A new social protection agenda

For many years, social protection was not a priority in Kenya. As a result, the country does not have a comprehensive policy framework aimed at fostering sustainable social protection programmes.

Plans are now underway to reorganize the social security sector to ensure that all workers, in both the formal and the informal sectors, are guaranteed basic income replacement support measures based on the principle of solidarity.

The Kenyan government is converting its existing provident fund for private sector workers, the NSSF, into a national social insurance pension scheme that meets ILO minimum standards and aims at extending coverage to all workers in both the formal and informal economies.

"Discussions are advanced to have the National Health Insurance Act amended to make way for the introduction of a universal National Social Health Insurance Scheme. At the same time, the drafting of the NSSF Act Amendment Bill has been completed. When this is passed by the parliament, the NSSF will be converted from a provident fund into a more comprehensive social insurance pension scheme", says Kenya's Vice President and Home Affairs Minister, Mr. Moody Awori.

The NSSF has 2.9 million members but only about 1 million of them pay contributions. The new scheme will extend membership to any person with a monthly or seasonal income. The new benefits will include life-time old-age, invalidity and survivors' pensions, a maternity grant and a funeral grant.

The National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) will be restructured to provide universal social health insurance coverage for every citizen, while premiums will be based on insurable income levels. The new legislation should be operational in 2005 and will guarantee the autonomy and the efficiency of the scheme. In addition, the reform aims at supporting the high number of people suffering from HIV/AIDS. The ILO estimates that 6.7 per cent of the country's labour force is HIV positive.

With gradual implementation of the new system, planners foresee eventual compulsory health coverage that would extend beyond formal sector workers and include the self-employed, unemployed and the poor, as well as non-Kenyan permanent residents.

The ILO will be supporting the implementation process for the new health scheme through joint activities carried out with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the German Development Agency (GTZ). These activities will focus on the assessment of quality in service provision, contracting of health care providers, communication and training, as well as management and monitoring.