Giving cash stipends to the elderly is a noble social venture. It is a recognition that the senior citizens require support to lead a dignified life in their sunset. The practice is widespread in the West, where governments provide generous allocations for the aged. Cash grants provide stable social support for the old people, who ordinarily would have to survive on relatives for upkeep yet such networks are never guaranteed.
Kenya has been experimenting with the National Safety Net Programme, dubbed “Inua Jamii”, since 2012 and it has clearly made a difference among the beneficiaries, assuring them of sustenance and giving them dignity. Anyone who is 70 years and above is entitled to a monthly remission of Sh2,000 disbursed as a lump sum every two months. So far, it has 1.3 million beneficiaries — a fairly good portion of the adult population, a majority of whom would be financially distressed without it. The government has earmarked Sh9 billion for the subsidy this year.
However, there are concerns over the management of the programme. Ideally, the cash should be channelled through financial institutions. However, that is not the case. There are regions where the institutions or their agents do not exist, hence the money is given out in cash, or still, recipients are forced to travel long distances for the payouts. Reports indicate cases where the elderly have to line up for long hours to get the remittances, which is demeaning and stigmatising.
It is, therefore, encouraging that the government has mounted a serious campaign to get all beneficiaries to open bank accounts to facilitate cash disbursements, which banks can do through their agents at the grassroots. This is important in expediting disbursements and also upholding the dignity of the elderly.
Social Protection Principal Secretary Nelson Marwa has directed all beneficiaries to open bank accounts, through which the cash can be disbursed. But that must be made faster and easier. Such accounts should also have waivers in terms of bank charges, so that the elderly do not lose the bulk of their income.
Importantly, the government should review the allocations to reflect the prevailing socio-economic challenges. A monthly remittance of Sh2,000 is insufficient.
Related to this, the elderly people are entitled to free medical cover through the National Hospital Insurance Fund, which has not been effected. However, the cover for NHIF members, who are not in formal employment, prescribes a specific health facility for the beneficiary, irrespective of health conditions, but most of the institutions do not have the capacity to manage various ailments afflicting the elderly. The cover for the elderly, when it is effected, should be left open for them to visit any hospital.