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Improving the lives of older people in Kenya

Kenya’s ageing population is booming, and poverty in Africa is widespread. However, pension programmes put in place to combat this are also unexpectedly helping younger generations.

Published: 6 January 2020

The number of older people living in sub-Sharan Africa is rapidly growing faster than anywhere else in the world.

By 2050 it is estimated there will be 157 million older people living there in sub-Saharan Africa.

The majority of those people still live in rural areas: however, increasing numbers are living in cities and other urban areas, often in informal settlements or ‘slums’.

Africa is a continent most affected by poverty, conflict, environmental challenges as well as poor access to health care. To support and secure their populations’ futures, a growing number of low- and middle- income countries have introduced social pension programs for older people.

Southampton research has shown that these pension programmes are not only a source of security for older people, but that security is being extended beyond the initial recipient.

Led by Dr Gloria Langat, Lecturer in Gerontology, and Professor Maria Evandrou, Head of Gerontology and Director of the Centre for Research on Ageing, as well as Professor Jane Falkingham, Director of ESRC Centre for Population Change, and Dr Nele van der Wielen, Visiting Fellow in Gerontology, a team of researchers evaluated the Kenyan Older Persons Cash Transfer Program (OPCTP).

Introduced in 2007 to secure the livelihoods and enhance the well-being of Kenya’s older population, the pension scheme has reached more that 164,000 beneficiaries with monthly stipends of $23. To date, however, there is little research to analyse the effects of the social pension scheme in Kenya, or of similar schemes in other countries outside South Africa.

The Southampton study, which has recently been published in the Journal of Ageing Studies, showed that older people who are more likely to share their money with their family, either their children or grandchildren.

Overall, a higher proportion of the total cash is shared with secondary beneficiaries living in rural Kenya, compared to those living in the same household, the study found.

This highlights the key role played by older people in providing support to wider kin networks; reinforcing the argument that investing in social pensions has much broader potential societal impact than the intended aims of reducing recipient household poverty. 

We wanted to examine how beneficiaries in urban slums experience and use their OPCT transfers and how the additional cash impacts upon their well-being, as well as that of others in their families.

Professor Maria Evandrou - Head of Gerontology, Director of the Centre for Research on Ageing

“Despite being the most vulnerable age group, these older people are still taking on the responsibility for the younger generations and trying to secure their future as best they can," explains Maria.

“It shows that societies that invest in social pension programs may improve the overall living conditions and experiences of ageing in their countries at a critical moment of global population ageing.”

The study was carried out in collaboration with Dr Isabella Aboderin, based in the Africa Population and Health Research Centre (APHRC), Nairobi, Kenya, and has provided the Kenyan Ministry of Labour, Social Security and Services with the first evaluation of OPCTP.

According to the Ministry, the research “yielded new insights into the operation, delivery and impact of the OPTCP and informed discussion how to improve the administration and delivery of the benefits and the effectiveness and efficiency of the targeting mechanism.” As a result, the OPCTP is to be extended to all senior citizens of 70 years of age and above, positively impacting upon the lives of 833,000 older people and their extended families in Kenya, and providing important lessons for neighbouring countries.

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