CUSHIONING THE VULNERABLE

Post-Covid calls for unconditional basic income

As a monthly stipend, UBI will be sent directly to beneficiaries

In Summary

• What comes out from the pandemic is the fact that, as an essential service, our national safety net programmes need to be relooked into to scale up their reach.

• The National Assembly and other stakeholders must initiate a legislative process that will ask for allocation of funds for monthly unconditional basic income targeting poor and vulnerable households.

Unconditional basic income
Unconditional basic income
Image: OZONE

By March, Covid-19 had already claimed its first victims in Kenya.

With new coronavirus infections and related deaths rising by the day, our economy has been shrinking due to restricted movement that has led to a depressed population.

It seems like we are yet to see the worst of the pandemic. These devastating developments associated with the pandemic indicate that this is the time to re-examine and restructure our social protection programmes.

Lockdowns and closure of places that were beehives of commercial activities remain some of the drastic measures implemented to curb the spread of the virus. Furloughs, layoffs and income losses predictably followed. To many Kenyans, this means the fragile economic base that existed before the pandemic is drastically diminished.

To the government, it is a big setback in the fight against extreme poverty, hunger, and vulnerability. This pandemic has exposed and aggravated the underlying socioeconomic inequalities in our country, a matter for which a comprehensive recovery response strategy is gravely needed.

What comes out is the fact that, as an essential service, our national safety net programmes need to be relooked into to scale up their reach. The National Assembly, through the Labour and Social Welfare Committee and stakeholders, must initiate a legislative process that will ask for allocation of funds for monthly unconditional basic income(UBI) targeting poor and vulnerable households.

Article 43 of the Constitution affords Kenyans the right to affordable healthcare, housing, food, and social security and requires the state to support the weak through practical social security measures. This Article borrows the letter and spirit of Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Identifying social protection as a fundamental human right for all citizens is profound. 

In an attempt to reduce poverty and the vulnerability to economic, social, and natural shocks and stresses, the National Social Protection Policy was developed in the year 2011.

It has three key components — social assistance, social security, and health insurance. Whereas the former and the latter have been given life and operationalised through Acts of Parliament that created the National Social Security Fund and the National Health Insurance Fund respectively, programmes under the social assistance pillar remain legislatively unanchored.

UBI is a model where the state provides deserving citizens with a given sum of money to reduce or prevent poverty thereby securing dignified living for all.

As a monthly stipend, UBI will be sent directly to beneficiaries pre-registered according to well-defined eligibility criteria that leave no deserving case behind.

Making this cash unconditional means the beholden recipients are at liberty to prioritise its spending, which is mostly their basic needs. Legislation will open up the programme for public scrutiny and stakeholder discussions, besides allowing to allocate and provide oversight on its funding.

As the main player in social protection, the government is then able to explore ways to raise additional revenue to support the programme, including negotiations with international agencies.

Parliamentary deliberations may consider including unemployed youths, persons out of contract, widows, and poor single parents into the vulnerable group and standardising the UBI amount to at least $2 per day per beneficiary. 

Of prime importance is to also create and enhance institutional capacity, coordination, efficiency, and delivery through monitoring and evaluation.

Poverty is an affront on human dignity, hunger humiliates, starvation causes a slow, painful and dehumanising death. UBI will be a bold step towards an inclusive society founded on the cherished principles of social justice.

Cash transfers make it possible for rural economies to keep growing in their diversities, notwithstanding the shock. It is a way of building resilience by reducing the chances of pandemics or perennial disasters such as drought and floods to push communities over the cliff.

This basic income will lead to many positive outcomes on a range of welfare indicators such as improved life expectancy, education, better household nutrition, and reduction on social ills such as crime and prostitution.

The history of mankind is fraught with moments of great trials and intriguing crises. Some of them threatened the very existence of human life, most of them have been the moments that inspired revolutionary social changes.

Implementing UBI will give children a bright start to life, keep senior citizens financially buoyant in their sunset years, secure dignified life to PLWDs, while welcoming everyone to contribute meaningfully and sustainably to our national vision.

For Parliament, this is also the moment to inculcate values such as empathy and altruism in driving our welfare agenda.

Martin Ogindo is the party leader, Green Congress of Kenya and former MP, Rangwe [email protected]