Section 30 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe requires the state to take all practical measures, within the limits of the resources available to it, to provide social security and social care to those who are in need. Eradicating poverty in all its forms — Sustainable Development goal one (SDG1) remains one of the greatest challenges faced by humanity. Even though globally, the number of people living in extreme poverty dropped by more than half between 1990 and 2015, so many people are still struggling for the most basic human needs like food, clean drinking water, and sanitation in Zimbabwe.
This was then worsened by Covid-19 which exposed the lack of social safety nets, lack of preparedness, and the lack of availability of accurate social data in our nation. In 2020 the World Bank had estimated that Covid-19 would push between 71-100 million people into extreme poverty. According to the World Food Programme people who were facing extreme poverty, hunger and starvation were about six million in 2019 and were expected to reach between 7,6 to eight million in 2020 which shows that poverty is increasing in Zimbabwe. This is rather sad for a country that is celebrating 41 years of independence and which used to be the breadbasket of southern Africa.
In March 2021, the Total Consumption Poverty Line (TCPL) was $5 187 and Food Poverty Line (FPL) was $3 934 per person which is beyond the reach of many. Whilst the economy has generally stabilised, given the stability of the currency, there has been a deepening level of poverty and vulnerabilities in Zimbabwe.
Covid-19 and the challenging environment facing the country have resulted in increases in the number of vulnerable households while the capacity of the existing social safety nets (SSNs) has equally deteriorated. The introduction of lockdowns in 2020 and 2021 further increased the vulnerability of people with disabilities (PWDs), orphans and vulnerable children, women, youths, people in the informal sector whose livelihood were exposed when they were locked out of their usual businesses and the elderly who depend on pension which was eroded by inflation.
Poverty is increasing not only in rural areas, but recently there has been an increase in urban vulnerability. Due to Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs) and other economic challenges the fiscal space has been limited to cater for SSNs.
The 2021 Budget claims to have “scaled up social protection to all vulnerable groups”, with an allocation of ZW$5,5 billion (estimated US$65 million). Are these allocated funds enough for social safety nets? Which data set was used to come up with these allocations? It is from this background, where this article wishes to unpack issues to do with social safety nets in Zimbabwe.
Role of Ministry of Social Welfare
The Ministry of Public Service, Labour, and Social Welfare is responsible for labour relations and welfare in Zimbabwe. The ministry has statutory responsibility for the protection of vulnerable populations in Zimbabwe through the Department of Labour; the Department of Social Services and the Department of Disabled Persons Affairs. It operates three parastatals which include National Social Security Authority (Nssa), Premier Service Medical Aid Society (PSMAS), and Zimbabwe Institute of Public Administration and Management (ZiPAM).
What are social safety nets and how much was allocated to these?
Social safety nets are programmes designed to protect the poor and vulnerable from shocks and contribute to reducing poverty and they are important elements of a country’s poverty reduction and growth strategy. Zimbabwe has the National Social Protection Policy Framework (NSPPF) which is expected to be reviewed under the National Development Strategy 1 (NDS1). The policy has four pillars of social protection, namely; social assistance, social insurance, labour market interventions and programmes aimed at supporting livelihoods and building resilience. In trying to provide SSNs the MoFED allocated ZW$5.5 billion for social protection to all vulnerable groups as follows: BEAM (ZW$2 billion); Children in Difficult Circumstances)/Streets (ZW$100 million); Harmonised Cash Transfer (ZW$900 million; Health Assistance (ZW$70 million); Support to Persons with Disabilities (ZW$140 million); Support to the elderly (ZW$50 million); Sustainable livelihoods (ZW$25 million); and Drought Mitigation (ZW$1.7 billion). In total, the 2021 Budget has an allocation of ZW$6.9 billion for the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Services.
Challenges around SSNs
Social safety nets continue to deteriorate, there is a lack of transparency and accountability in choosing beneficiaries and distribution of benefits. During Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC)’s First Quarter Policy dialogue with the parliament held on 12th of April 2021, there were concerns, among others, that funds allocated to PWDs were insufficient, Social Security and Service delivery remains poor and medical aid and insurance are beyond the reach of many. Many people had lost their medical aid and insurance after failing to pay their premiums during the lockdown. All these issues lead to an increase in vulnerable people which need more social safety nets.
Whilst we appreciate the development partners such as the World Food Program, FACT, Catholic Relief Services, Hunger for life, etc and even President and First lady’s assistance programs, in helping the vulnerable, there is weak coordination of these humanitarian responses. This promotes corruption in access to support and exclusion of marginalized groups. There is also poor monitoring and accountability systems for resources allocated towards social protection and lack of stakeholder coordination initiatives by these different players resulting in double-dipping by some beneficiaries.
Zimbabwe has a good legal and policy framework which guarantees the protection of vulnerable groups, however it lacks capacities to implement them. Another challenge is the use of fragmented and silo-based approach to social protection with multiple programmes yet limited reach with the opaque reporting system. In doing so there are weak underlying delivery systems, including the lack of Management Information Systems (MIS) and Lack of Specialised Protection Systems for children leading to increased child marriages, child labour, school drop-outs, drug and substance abuse.
In terms of availability and accuracy of social data, there are claims that Zimbabwe does not have a consolidated and comprehensive social data set of all vulnerable people. Our data set is therefore very poor, even development partners who do programmes to assist the vulnerable don’t have consolidated data set. They end up developing their own data sets and there are challenges of double-dipping and politicisation when names are submitted.
In order to reduce extreme poverty and improve social safety nets, Zimbabwe needs a more comprehensive strategy that is well planned to cushion the vulnerable. The state needs a robust, comprehensive, and consolidated database that is updated regularly, of all vulnerable members, including the elderly. It must use Social Protection Management Information System (MIS) in order to improve on appropriate targeting of the vulnerable groups and delivery of benefits, so as to ensure they receive the much-needed and relevant social assistance. In identifying the vulnerable groups, the state must use the multidimensional approach to poverty eradication via the Multidimensional Poverty Index.
In addition, Zimbabwe needs to establish a strong Integrated Social Protection Programme, which is realistic, resilient, and inclusive. There is a need to scale up the provision of inclusive non-partisan social assistance through rationalisation of beneficiaries to target deserving vulnerable groups. There is also need for a new social assistance programmes in urban areas to address rising urban poverty and vulnerability.
In addition, there is a need to implement measures to improve shock responsiveness (shocks such as Covid-19 and natural disasters), monitoring and evaluation as well as improved communication. To address the lack of coordination and use of fragmented approaches.
There is a need to come up with coordination mechanisms such as a committee that will oversee all the activities/programmes to assist the vulnerable. There is a need to push for a Global Health Treaty to ensure the right to health for all.
Nyamudzanga is an economist, tax consultant, ZES member, holder of a Masters in Tax Policy and Administration, and degree in Economics. These weekly New Perspectives articles are co-ordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, immediate past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society. — firstname.lastname@example.org or mobile +263 772 382 852