NKOLE NKOLE, Lusaka
APPLYING the principle of universal social protection is a duty of governments across the world.
According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, social protection is a basic human right.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) defines universal social protection as an integrated set of policies designed to ensure income security and support to all– paying particular attention to the poor and the vulnerable.
For older persons, who also have a right to a decent living, it is about providing income security and the means to access basic necessities.
Ministry of Community Development and Social Services principal community development officer Stephen Chiwele addressed the issue of income protection for older persons at the recently commemorated 2018 Social Protection Week in Lusaka.
Zambia’s National Policy on Ageing defines an older person as one aged 60 years or older and the country’s current retirement threshold is 65 years.
There are a number of challenges facing the elderly in Zambia which include social exclusion.
Some suffer from isolation due to stigma. In some rural communities, elderly people are suspected of practising witchcraft and poverty is also highly pronounced among them.
“The current pension schemes in Zambia are contributory in nature, meaning most of the people in the informal sector are without pension cover and many of these are older persons,” Mr Chiwele shared.
Due to loss of work and income in old age, households with old people are among the poorest in the country.
As a response to the issue of ageing, the Zambian government is a signatory to international treaties such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing.
The Ministry of Community Development and Social Services also leads the commemoration of the International Day of Older Persons which falls annually on October 1.
The National Policy on Ageing provides guidance on the implementation of programmes to assist older persons and the ministry presently runs two old age homes in the country.
The ministry is also in the process of developing minimum standards for establishing and running old people’s homes.
“Our position as a ministry is that elderly people continue to live with their families and within their communities. Being institutionalised should come as a last resort,” Mr Chiwele shared.
Under the Seventh National Development Plan (7NDP), the Ministry of Community Development and Social Services falls under the poverty and vulnerability pillar.
The ministry runs social safety nets like the Social Cash Transfer Scheme targeting the vulnerable in communities.
The scheme is also meant to address the issue of intergenerational poverty.
Regarding the scheme, Mr Chiwele said: “This programme was started in 2003 in Kalomo as a pilot project and right now the programme is being implemented in all the districts of Zambia and we are using an inclusive model.”
At the moment there are about 570 000 households under the scheme and the ministry hopes to scale up by the end of the year to 700 000 households with a budget of K741 million for 2018.
Giving a keynote presentation and sharing regional perspectives on universal social protection, HelpAge International Pretoria representative, Maria Gotha, stressed that older citizens are entitled to social protection through their governments.
“Sometimes people want to think that governments are doing us a favour. They have a responsibility. We are the citizens of our country and it is our right to be protected by our governments,” Ms Gotha said.
Her organisation has worked with Mozambique for many years and within that time it has assisted the country draft its National Basic Social Strategy (2016-2024).
In the strategy they have proposed a range of measures and mechanisms which will allow about 3.3 million people living in poverty and vulnerability to become more resistant to the economic consequences of shock, social risks, droughts, floods and other natural disasters.
Meanwhile, in South Africa, a report called the Social Profile of Older Persons (2011-2015), focusing on people aged 60 and older, recorded that in the households where the elderly live, most people are unemployed.
This makes the old age grant that is received in those households a source of income.
“Older persons receiving the old age grant in South Africa actually become breadwinners and that has its own challenges,” Ms Gotha pointed out.
The principle behind the old age grant, she explained, is that it is funded by a government and it is a lifeline for households because of high unemployment.
She said there is also a situation which prevails across southern Africa where older persons instead of retiring and leading their own lives, have become parents raising their grandchildren who are mainly HIV/AIDS orphans.
Ms Gotha highlighted that social protection programmes in Southern Africa are fragmented which undermines the efficiency of public spending and potential for social gains.
She therefore challenged stakeholders to unite and fight for the achievement of universal social pension for older persons.
ILO Social Security National Programme Officer, Patience Matandiko, said globally about 68 percent of people that are over the statutory retirement age in their countries, are receiving a form of pension, either contributory or non-contributory.
Non-contributory pensions could be a cash transfer that is financed by government treasury.
As Zambia aspires to be a middle-income country, less than 20 percent of older persons are covered.
“This could be because of the nature of the labour force that we have. By the time people are getting old, they don’t have a cushion because maybe they did not make enough income during their productive life and even when they were working, we find that there are a lot of gaps in terms of coverage of statutory pension schemes,” Ms Matandiko shared.
By the time they are retiring, older persons in Zambia are not covered and many of them fall into poverty.
Even where they have access to a contributory pension, because of the nature and insignificant size of the pension, they still succumb to poverty.
This results in a high proportion of citizens that have contributed to national development largely depending on family support.
Ms Matandiko also pointed out a shift in the African context from the trend of extended families to nuclear families.
Particularly because of this trend in Africa, application of the universal social pension is critical.
In the long run, with the high levels of informal employment, many will still remain vulnerable and without cover.
“These are people that have contributed to the independence of African countries and invested so much in their children such that some of them even forgot to make an investment for themselves. This is the time that they need to be supported,” Ms Matandiko emphasised.
The Zambian government has a responsibility to domesticate international treaties and conventions it is subscribed to.
Achieving universal social protection through provision of a universal pension for Zambia can also contribute to the attainment of some of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically SDG1 which relates to eliminating poverty and SDG3 which is about ensuring healthy lives and promoting the well-being of all at all ages.
NKOLE NKOLE, Lusaka