Over the past two decades, the deterioration of the socio-economic environment in Zimbabwe has left many people living in abject poverty as they can hardly have food on the table. The most affected are the older persons, who in most cases are no longer able-bodied to work and earn a living. While ageing is regarded as a blessing and must be celebrated, this is not the case in many African countries, as it is mostly associated with poverty, ill-health, neglect, abandonment and abuse.1 Recognizing the plight of the elderly, the Government of Zimbabwe enacted the Older Persons Act in 2012, which provides for creation of an Older Persons Fund and Older Persons Board, signifying a major milestone in terms of legislating for the protection of the elderly population in Zimbabwe. However, implementation of the Act awaits the gazetting of the statutory instrument to bring the Act into operation. This policy brief seeks to expose the implications of Government’s delay in operationalizing the Act and recommends creation of fiscal space to accommodate the plight of the elderly through the introduction of a Social Pension.
Zimbabwe has an estimated total population of about 13 million people, of which about 4.07% constitute the elderly persons above 65 years of age.2 The Older Persons Act defines an “older person” as a citizen of Zimbabwe aged sixty-five years or above, who is ordinarily resident therein”.3 Thus, the 4% translates to about 520 000 older persons above the age of 65 years. An analysis of the Poverty Assessment Study Survey confirms that poverty in Zimbabwe is very high given that about 78, 5% of the elderly were classified as poor or very poor,4 and in need of social protection.
The World Bank5 defines social protection as interventions that assist poor individuals,households and communities to reduce their vulnerability by managing risks better. Social protection is increasingly becoming a very important tool to help alleviate poverty by guaranteeing a minimum level of consumption for people living in poverty or on the threshold of it, or by replacing wholly or in part income lost as a result of a certain contingency such as losing one’s earnings capacity through invalidity or old age. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) recommends State Parties to implement the Social Protection Floor initiative (2012, Social Security Floors Recommendation 202) which calls for a minimum package of social protection benefits, covering old age pensions, child benefit, public work programmes and basic healthcare.
Even though, Zimbabwe has put in place various programmes aimed at cushioning the elderly persons in their old age, the programmes are seriously affected by high exclusion errors given that only a small number of the elderly population are covered. The National Social Security Authority (NSSA), which was established in 1989, only provides for pensions and other benefits allowances to the older persons that were formally employed. The private insurance companies such as Old Mutual, ZIMNAT and First Mutual, among others are private and voluntary organisations that provide coverage to private companies and those individuals that can afford. This therefore, excludes the majority of the elderly persons that never contributed to any form of insurance vulnerable. Zimbabwe will not be the first African country to introduce a Social Pension, and can draw some lessons from other African countries in the Sub-Saharan region that have put in place such social protection programmes targeting the elderly population, such as South Africa’s Older Person’s Grant, Lesotho’s Universal Old Age Pension and Uganda’s Social Assistance Grant for Empowerment (SAGE), among others.
Realising the urgent need to provide for the rights of the elderly population in Zimbabwe, the Government enacted the Older Persons Act in 2012. Since then, the operationalization of the Act awaits the gazetting of the Statutory Instrument. The promulgation of the Constitution of Zimbabwe (Amendment No. 20 of 2013) also brought about a positive development by strengthening the protection of the rights of the elderly as most of their rights are comprehensively enshrined therein under Section 21 and 82. Given that there is a new constitution, there is urgent need for alignment of the Older Persons Act with the provisions in the Constitution.
Sections 21 and 82 of the Constitution provide that the State and all institutions and agencies of government are mandated to put in place reasonable policy measures including legislative measures to secure respect, support and protection of the elderly persons and to enable them to participate in life of their communities. The provision further mandates the State and all institutions to ensure the well-being of the elderly through providing facilities, food and social care, health care and medical assistance, financial support by way of social security and welfare for the elderly in need as well as to develop programmes to give elderly persons the opportunity to engage in productive activity suited to their abilities.
Thus, the provision mandates the state and families to provide for the elderly. In the absence of the traditional safety nets usually provided by the nuclear family, the state has an obligation to provide for those in need as stated in the Constitution. Given the above observations, it is also important to note that the Constitution does not define an older person but provides for the rights of people over the age of seventy years and mandates the State to take reasonable legislative and other measures, within the limits of the resources available to it, to achieve the progressive realisation of their right. Thus, this contradiction urgently calls for the alignment of laws so that the actual definition of the older persons is clarified.
THE PLIGHT OF THE ELDERLY AND THE CURRENT STATE OF SOCIAL PROTECTION IN ZIMBABWE
The major factors contributing to the plight of the elderly in most developing countries, including Zimbabwe, include among others, the HIV and AIDs pandemic, family disintegration destroying the traditional family safety nets, migration for greener pastures by the younger generation, climate change, high unemployment levels and the harsh socio-economic environment. These factors have left many elderly people exposed to poverty and deprivation as the majority of them are no longer able-bodied. It is also sad to note that the majority of the elderly people have orphans and vulnerable children left in their custody. To make matters worse, most of the elderly people are still looking after their adult children and their families because of the high levels of unemployment in Zimbabwe. This has put a huge burden on the elderly persons to provide for the family in their old age instead of them enjoying the blessing of old age.
Even though the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare has in place some programmes aimed at protecting the rights of the older persons in Zimbabwe, the programmes are either inadequately funded or largely donor driven and therefore unsustainable. For instance, a number of initiatives exist, which are:
i. Harmonised Social Cash Transfer (HSCT): which provides beneficiaries with a cash transfer ranging between US$10 to US$25 per month to households with orphans and vulnerable children, disabled persons, child headed households and the elderly. The HSCT is specifically targeted at the poorest people in the rural and urban areas and is an unconditional social cash transfer that targets food-poor and labour-constrained households. However, the programme is largely driven by the donor community.
ii. Health Assistance Program: provides for free access to medical treatment at all government clinics and hospitals for older persons. In addition, the Government has in place the Assisted Medical Treatment Orders (AMTOs) that are issued out to patients when they are referred to referral hospitals/clinics so that they get free treatment. AMTOs is specifically targeted at assisting the poor people in accessing medical treatment. The program is funded from the national budget, but it is significantly under-funded, making it difficult for the patients to access treatment FAO (2015)and get prescribed drugs from government hospitals.
RATIONALE FOR THE SOCIAL PENSION
Although the country has the above-mentioned social protection programs, it is depressing to note that such programmes continue to suffer from inadequate funding from the national budget with some of the promised funds not being disbursed each year to facilitate the smooth implementation of the programmes. Therefore, the coverage rate of the programmes remains low due to inadequate funding. For example, as of March 2014, the HSCT programme has expanded to reach out to 20 districts covering 55 509 households up from 10 districts covering 16 637 households when the programme was launched in 2012.6 Zimbabwe has 65 districts thus showing that the coverage rate is still very low to reach out to all the poor and labour constrained households, including the elderly in all the districts who are not receiving any pension from any contributory schemes.
Thus, the elderly persons continue to bear the brunt of the harsh socio-economic environment given that the majority of them become labour constrained due to age and ill health. In addition to that, it is believed that the elderly people are heavily burdened by looking after their grandchildren whose parents either died as a result of HIV/AIDs, or left the country to look for greener pastures, or their parents are roaming the streets in search of employment in Zimbabwe.
Of critical concern is that, these elderly people at one point in their life once contributed to the economic development of the country during their active years, which alone warrants a recognition by national governments. Various researches confirmed that prioritisation of the needs of the elderly has a trickle-down effect, given that most elderly people would not spend their cash transfers on their own needs but rather on the family thereby improving their welfare.7 It is also important to note that social pension programs for the elderly poor can greatly reduce old age destitution if they are well targeted and fiscally affordable. In addition, studies have also revealed that cash transfers to the elderly fosters intergenerational solidarity as those employed would have the reason to contribute tax with the hope of one day benefitting from their Government in their old age.Therefore, the need for government intervention and support cannot be overemphasized. Hence the call to operationalise the Older Persons Act through the establishment of the Older Persons Fund to introduce the Social Pension and the Older Persons Board to look into the welfare of the elderly persons.
FISCAL IMPLICATIONS OF THE PROPOSAL
This policy brief proposes that the Social Pension targets the elderly persons above the age of 65 years in line with the Older Persons Act who are poor and not receiving any other form of pension, thereby making it a means tested scheme. Zimbabwe has an estimated total population of about 520 000 elderly persons above 65 years of age of which about 156 039 are receiving formal contributory pensions from NSSA9 leaving out about 363 961 uncovered and vulnerable.
The rule of thumb is that the proposed social pension must be pegged at a figure below the contributory minimum pension, which is US$80 in Zimbabwe. Therefore, the simulation exercise is proposing that a minimum amount of about 20% of the individual food basket valued at $133 per person10 be awarded as monthly social pension for a start, which translate to about USD26.60/month. Thus, the USD26.60 cash transfer (social pension) will translate into an annual budget of US$116 176 351.20 per annum (i.e. 363 961 elderly persons x US$26.60 x 12 months), which constitutes about 2.8% of the national budget11 or 0.80% of GDP.12
It is important to note that the estimated US$116 million per annum could be an over estimation given that the proposed social pension simulated above ought to be means tested in order to target the most poor and needy. Therefore, the social pension may be affordable if the Government is to consider re-prioritisation or introduction of an earmarked tax. The Government may also consider engaging the donor community for now and gradually commit itself to progressively honour its obligation as the state of the economy improves.
Since Government has put in place the legal and policy framework to protect the rights of the elderly people, means there is political will. However, resource constraints has been the major challenge to provide for the Older Persons Fund, hence impacting heavily on the implementation of the Act. Therefore, creating fiscal space through re-prioritisation and earmarked taxes are some of the proposals that can be sustainable. The introduction of the Social Pension would indeed have a trickle-down effect in communities and in turn in the economy at large thereby increasing aggregate demand in the economy.
• The Government should urgently align the Older Persons Act with the Constitution so that it is operationalized to cushion the elderly persons.
• Government should consider creating fiscal space through re-prioritization and earmarked taxes.
1. 2012 National Census Report, Government of Zimbabwe Projected Revenue of USD4.1 Billion (The 2017 National Budget Statement)
2. Dhemba J (2013) Social Protection for the Elderly in Zimbabwe: Issues, Challenges And Prospects, African Journal of Social Work, 3(1)
3. FAO (2015) Zimbabwe’s Harminised Social Cash Transfer Programme: Impacts on Productive Activities and Labour Allocation Research Projected Nominal GDP of USD14.5 Billion (The 2017 National Budget Statement)Brief retrieved on 06/11/2017 from http://www.fao.org/3/a-i5214e.pdf
4. NSSA Annual Report, 2016
5. Older Persons Act, Chapter 17:11
6. Tewodros A & Daniel S, (2014) Towards Unversal Pension in Tanzania: Evidence on Opportunities & Challenges from a Remote Area – A Case Study of the Kwa Wazee Pension Programme, Arusha, Tanzania, retrieved on 10/11/2017 from https://www.unicef.org/tanzania/HelpAge_TZ_SP_Intl_Conference.pdf
7. The Constitution of the Republic of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 20) 2013, Government Printers, Harare
8. The2017 National Budget Statement
9. The 2018 Pre-Budget Strategy Paper
10. World Bank, 2001 Report