Population data will help us come up with robust social protection policies

An enumerator (right) takes a resident of Mikanjuni, Mtwapa in Kilifi County through the census questions during the 2019 national population census. [Omondi Onyango, Standard]

If there is a constituency that stands to benefit most from the ongoing census, then it is the population that is benefitting from the Government’s social protection programmes. 

Although the Government runs a credible cash transfer programme covering the elderly, disabled, famine-sticken, orphans and vulnerable children, there is a general feeling that the data of potential beneficiaries of the programmes is not accurate.

For example, although the number of older people is above two million, the 2009 census put their number at about a million.

The 2019 census therefore offers a glorious opportunity for the potential cash transfer beneficiaries to provide data that would inform future accurate targeting of the programme, which Social Protection Principal Secretary Nelson Marwa is determined to implement with much gusto.

For while it might be just a case of more or less people for the general public, policy makers will be keen to sieve through new developments in distribution of numbers and how the new statistics will affect current policies.

Although the Government spends up to Sh26 billion on cash transfers annually, there have been questions whether the coverage has been as effective as it should be. 

Questions have also arisen on whether the Government has, for example, managed to capture the high number of new Kenyans who are turning 65 years and above and whether they qualify for the cash transfers owing to rising life expectancy levels.

After the Government gets exact statistics on ageing population in Kenya, it will be interesting to compare it with the projected shift towards a larger proportion of older persons across the globe. 

Population Reference Bureau’s (PRB) world population data shows those aged over 65 will nearly double to 16 per cent of the world population compared to nine per cent in 2018. It further points out that the segment ages 85+ is growing the fastest in this age group.

Comparatively, the share of children below age 15 in the world population has been shown as falling and will continue to fall, from 37 per cent in 1960, to 26 per cent in 2018, and a projected 21 per cent by 2050.

The new development portrays declines in fertility and mortality rates as the general population numbers rises.

Interestingly, the PRB data shows Africa’s population growth will account for approximately 58 per cent of the global increase in population between 2018 and 2050, with 26 countries in the continent expected to double. In Niger, the population is expected to triple.

The statistics do not give clear distribution of this increase, but the consensus is that the older population will grow faster over the next three decades. 

While timing and speed of the anticipated age structure change may vary by country, the resultant effect will affect current national policy agendas and resource allocation plans.

For instance, Kenya’s social protection programmes will likely be affected by the changing numbers. A possible rise in number of elderly would create a bigger burden for government and the working age population due to a higher dependency ratio in the country. Local statistics shows that four out of every 10 people currently under employment have a pension cover. 

It would mean the working population will be forced to work even harder. The Government will also have to create a favourable environment for robust economic growth and specifically make considerations to boost budgetary allocations to social protection programmes like the Inua Jamii.

Through Inua Jamii, the Government has since 2007 disbursed Sh55.9 billion to support older citizens from poor households through a monthly Sh2,000 stipend and provision of NHIF cover to help them overcome poverty and to live healthy, secure and dignified lives.

However, the funds have not been enough to adequately support the rising number of the elderly. Targeting has also been a big challenge due to lack of clear data.

To ensure the country addresses access to healthcare hurdles for the elderly, analysing data on the working age population will also be critical. This is the economic growth determinant age for a country. It is worth noting that a declining working-age population will generate less income for health and pension systems. This will in turn make it difficult for the general economy to support the aged.

In fact, General Survey 2019, compiled by the ILO shows only 68 per cent of persons of retirement age globally receive some form of pension, and in many low-income countries this drops to just 20 per cent.

The ILO survey found the main deficits in essential healthcare access relate to underfunding of health protection, shortages of health workers and high rates of out-of-pocket payments. This results in increased risk of impoverishment and financial hardships across the world.

It is every Kenyan’s hope that the 2019 census will dig out the latest statistics on changing trends in the population mix to guide future policy development plans and re-adjustments to existing ones especially those touching on social protection.


Mr Onyango is a journalist based in Nairobi