Social assistance cash transfers in Kenya


payment-photoDespite the economic growth in Kenya, around 17 million people (45.6%) live below the national poverty line (less than Kshs. 134 per day) while 19% live in extreme poverty (World Bank, 2015). Developing countries like Kenya invest in social assistance programme that target the poorest and most vulnerable because the risks that peoplefaceare not only linked to stages ithe lifecycle,but they are alssubjected to correlated risks, such as droughts, floods and economic recessions. For example, children from poor households have high probability of experiencing stuntinoan inabilittgain a good quality education; many peoplof working agfacthe challengof low incomes,the risof unemployment, terminal and long term illnesses (HIV/AIDs), disability and in some cases having many childrencan negatively impact on family incomes and expenditure. Relationship between income and capability is strongly affected by factor such as age, gender and social roles, geographical location (proneness to flooding or drought, insecurity, violence) (Sen, 1999).

Kenya is a signatory to Livingstone Social Protection Declaration of 2006 that proposed sub-Sahara African countries invest in social protection programmes as measures of protecting the poorest. Social Protection measures (social assistance, social security, health insurance) are seen as the best option for addressing high level of poverty in sub-Saharan Africa countries. In addition, the Constitution of Kenya  (2010) contains a comprehensive Bill of Rights.  Article 43 guarantees all Kenyans their economic, social, and cultural (ESC) rights. It asserts the “right for every person, to social security and binds the State to provide appropriate social security to persons who are unable to support themselves and their dependents.”  Kenya has ratified several international agreements that support the implementation of social protection. Some of these include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), which recognizes social protection as a fundamental human right for all citizens of the world. This is reinforced by many UN and ILO conventions as well as regional agreements including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (1981) and the East African Community Common Market Protocol (García and Gruat, 2003)

Kenya’s Vision 2030, in specific the Social Pillar objective 5.3 on Gender, Youth and Vulnerable groups “aims at improving the livelihoods for all vulnerable groups by establishing National Safety Net Programme (NSNP)- a consolidated social protection fund”. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs 2030) also give social protection prominence as three out of the seventeen goals explicitly capture such measures. The Kenya Social Protection Policy provides guidelines for designing inclusive social assistance programmes that address vulnerabilities such as old age (social universal pension), severe disabilities, orphans and vulnerable children, hunger, drought emergencies to mention but a few. 


Impact studies conducted by different authorities have established that unconditional and regular cash transfers have positive effects in the households. Evidence from HSNP impact qualitative study (OPM, 2016) indicated that HSNP cash transfers positively impact poorest households’ livelihoods as they largely spend their stipends on food and basic needs such as clothes, school fees, medical bills and paying off credit debt. 

In addition, cash transfers contribute to their long-term well-being and to broader societal goals of inclusion, equity, social justice and empowerment (Sabates-Wheeler and Devereux, 2008).Study conducted by (Haushafer & Shapiro, 2013) concluded that cash transfers had significant impact on psychosocial well being of beneficiaries. Receiving cash transfers significantly reduced depression and stress especially in women as compared to male recipients. Druza (2015) argues that cash transfers allows beneficiaries to participate more in community activities, increases their access to information and social networks, and enhances the social contract and people's relationship with the state. Testimonials from some of the HSNP beneficiaries have confirmed the positive effects of unconditional cash transfers on their well being.

Investment isocial protection ian essential component of a successful and sustainable market economy and a range of developing countries are noinvesting a significant proportion of national wealth in social protection. Kenya is currently investing 0.3% of its GDP on social protection tax-financed programmes (World Bank, 2016). Studies conducted (OPM, 2016) showed that regular long term unconditional cash transfers to poorest and most vulnerable households in poorest Arid counties of Turkana, Wajir, Marsabit and Mandera, not only had positive impact on the livelihood of individual households, but also the wider community through local economy wider effects. In HSNP2 (2013-2018), by August 2017, a cumulative total of Kshs. 12billion has been disbursed to 98,736 regular households and Kshs. 3.1billion for drought emergency scale ups to additional households across the four Counties. In HSNP, women, who are the most vulnerable in rural remote pastoralist communities, constitute 60% of all primary recipients of regular households. They use a portion of the cash transfers to start up small-scale businesses to compliment their households’ income. Thus, HSNP cash transfers are economically empowering vulnerable women across the four Arid and poorest Counties of Wajir, Mandera, Marsabit and Turkana.

In conclusion, the impact of cash transfer programs such as HSNP has positive effects not only of the welfare individual households receiving the social assistance, but also the wider local economy.

Compiled by Carrie Ndoka- Communications Specialist, HSNP2


Druza, Kristie. (2015) Cash Transfer in Nepal: Do they contribute to social inclusion? Volume 44, 2016- Issue 1. Oxford Development Studies

Garcia, A. Bonilla and Gruat, J.V. (2003). A Life Cycle Continuum investment for Social Justice, Poverty Reduction & Sustainable Development. Report

Haushafer, Johannes., Shapiro, Jeremy (2013). Policy Brief: Impact of Unconditional Cash Transfers. The short-term impact of unconditional cash transfers to the poor: Experimental evidence from Kenya.

Oxford Policy Management. (2016). Qualitative Impact Evaluation Study Report

Sabates-Wheeler, R. and Devereux, S. (2008) ‘Transformative Social Protection: The Currency  of Social Justice’, in A. Barrientos  and D. Hulme (eds) Social Protection  for the Poor and Poorest: Concepts,  Policies and Politics. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Sen, Amartya. (1999). Development as Freedom. Oxford University Press.

World Bank. (2016). Kenya Social Protection Sector Review Report. (Unpublished)


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