Social protection for Zambia’s poorest
The Government of Zambia is concerned about the growth in inequality among its citizens, and has attacked the problem with a new social protection programme. Implemented over the last two years, the basic social security provided by this programme has proven to be an effective way of improving the lives of the poor. The Zambian economy has a growth rate of almost 10 per cent a year, thanks to the mining industry, but poverty in the country is not being reduced at the same rate. Economic inequality is one of the country’s biggest problems.
“People’s patience is running out, and the Government understands that. When the PF (Patriotic Front) Party came to power two years ago, it promised to get rid of the inequality. Since the start of the new Programme, the Government has increased its share of the funding eight times. This strong support from the Government is critical for success,” said the Global Social Policy Adviser to the Finnish Foreign Ministry, Mr Timo Voipio.
Inequality gives rise to social conflict, and is detrimental to economic growth. Zambia has had a social protection programme since the country’s Independence. This programme has trained social workers who are now deployed in every part of the country. The State Budget, however, has not found funding for basic social protection. According to Mr Voipio, Zambia is now committed to social protection, creating the changes which are seen as absolutely necessary.
Mr Voipio said, “The country can already afford to reduce inequality, and to allocate Budget funds to the programme. What the Zambians need is support in creating the system.”
Implementation of the programme has been monitored by comparing villages receiving social protection support with villages which are not. Mr Voipio said, “Although overall poverty in Zambia as a whole has not been reduced, the villages which are getting social protection support have risen from abject poverty to close to the poverty line. Extreme poverty is gone.”
The beneficial effects of the social protection programme can be seen in the lives of the poorest Zambians. They use most of their additional income for food and health care, they buy clothes and shoes for their children, and improve their living quarters. The pessimists who predicted that social protection funds would be used primarily for alcohol and tobacco have been proven wrong. The most significant change in the programme, according to Mr Voipio, is not the change in the amount of money allocated, but the change that money has made in improving people’s lives.
“A better life includes food, clothing, money for riding buses in town, and for buying minutes to talk on a mobile phone. Children don’t get sick as much as they did, they have a change of clothes, and they are more likely to go to school. Agricultural production has gone up, and more goats and cattle have been bought,” said Mr Voipio, listing the programme results in the villages for 2012-2013.
Social protection has also had the effect of lowering unemployment. The support provided by social protection has not reduced people’s willingness to work, it has increased it. Social protection has improved children’s grades in school, increased investment, and raised economic production and the amount of money in circulation in the local economy. Until now, the only social protection available for the poorest people in the villages has been the aid that neighbours have given each other. When a neighbour shares crop surpluses with others, there is no additional income to use for agricultural investment.
From a sack to electronic transfers
Funds for social protection used to be transferred to the account of the local social worker, from which the local village school teacher, for example, used to literally take sacks of money to distribute to those who needed it. Now there is a new method. People receiving social protection apply for an electronic chip card, which they can use to withdraw cash at the village store.
The sums are small, only about 10 euros a time, and there has been virtually no abuse of the system. The electronic cards make it easy to monitor where the money goes.
Those who are to receive social protection funds are chosen by the villagers themselves at a village meeting.
Mr Voipio said, “Neighbours know best how their neighbours are doing. At the top of the list they put single parents and families with disabled persons. The starting point is that the poor know their own needs and will not spend money foolishly.”
In 2014 the programme covered 50 districts, and by 2015 it will have expanded to cover the entire country. Finland supported the programme with 3.1 million euros in the years 2012 – 1013. In future, the programme will continue to receive additional funding from several sources, including Finland.
Social protection is not one of the UN Millennium Development Goals, but it will be included in the new development goals, post 2015 agenda. Reduction of economic inequality is also one of the main themes of Finnish development policy.
Photos by Juho Paavola and Matti Nummelin