As Zanzibar celebrates the first anniversary of its universal pension scheme, HelpAge International is calling on African governments to implement similar social protection initiatives.
In Tanzania and countries across Africa, poverty is prevalent for people of all ages, but it can become even more severe in older age. A secure income can be instrumental in reducing poverty, and evidence a year on from the introduction of the pension in Zanzibar suggests universal pensions are a very effective way of addressing these issues.
Last April 2016, the Tanzanian archipelago became the first place in east Africa to provide its older people with a universal, state-funded pension. Since then, everyone aged 70 and over, no matter their circumstances, has been entitled to 20,000 Tanzanian shillings (US$9) a month.
HelpAge and its partners promote access to income for older men and women as a basic right, and has provided technical support to the government of Zanzibar from the design stage pf the universal pension programme and continues to support its implementation.
"The pension money has helped me a lot," said 75-year-old Mambo, who fishes in Chwaka Bay off the east coast of Zanzibar's main island Unguja.
For 10 years, his business has suffered as fishing stocks declined and the Government introduced restrictions on nets. Since receiving the pension, he has been able to afford new nets and better meet his and his family’s needs during the tough months.
"It is very important for me because I am sure of getting it no matter what," he said. "With my fishing business, sometimes I will go onto the water and come back empty handed. But with the pension I am sure I will always get it.
"When my fishing doesn't go well I am not as worried because I can still buy drugs and food using the pension money."
Having a regular income increases older people's standing in their families and communities. The pension money often benefits the whole household, including contributions towards grandchildren's education, which further cements bonds and relationships across generations.
But even with a social pension, many older people cannot access the medicine and healthcare they need. Zanzibar health policy provides free healthcare to older people, but it has not been effectively implemented - older people are still required to pay fees when they attend a clinic or hospital.
Smart Daniel, Tanzania Country Director at HelpAge International, said: "While there is every indication the universal pension in Zanzibar is improving the quality of life for older people, it can achieve more if it is part of a wider social protection package that includes free and quality healthcare."
Zanzibar joined a few countries across Africa, including Botswana, Mauritius and Namibia, in introducing a non-contributory pension, and Kenya recently announced that it too will support its older citizens with a universal income. There is hope that Tanzania’s mainland will follow suit soon.
Most poor older women and men in sub-Saharan Africa work in the informal sector, and this means just a small number of people build up a pension during their working lives.
"Universal pensions help to bridge this gap - they are an essential pillar of all social protection systems, and ensure older people have a reliable income," said Prafulla Mishra, Africa Regional Director at HelpAge International.
Henry Mazunda, Communications Officer
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About HelpAge International
HelpAge International is a global network which helps older people claim their rights, challenge discrimination and overcome poverty, so that they can lead dignified, secure, active and healthy lives. Our work is strengthened through our global network of like-minded organisations - the only one of its kind in the world.
What is HelpAge International doing to alleviate poverty?
HelpAge International is working in partnership with governments, civil society organisations, including community-based and national organisations of older people, and donors to raise awareness of the issues faced by older people and to achieve the commitments on older people's rights made by many governments under the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing.
These commitments, which include taking forward the rights of older people and reducing the number of older people living in extreme poverty, can be achieved through the provision of a package of universal state social pensions, free health care and anti-discriminatory legislation.
Regular income in old age is an essential component of the rights to social security and an adequate standard of living, recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), and the International Covenant on Economic and Social Rights (1966).
The right to regular income in old age is reiterated in the Madrid Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA 2002) and in the 2002 African Union Policy Framework and Plan of Action on Ageing. Social pensions are an effective way to deliver this regular income.