Posts

Basic income, free face masks needed in the slums urgently

As the government continues to work out an adequate and fair response to the huge rise in virus infections and accelerating death rate, out of the box thinking is required. Complete area lockdowns hurt socio-economic development, while clearly helping to reduce Covid-19 infections.

Yet reduced development devastates incomes, especially of the poor who even find it difficult to pay for face-masks. It also leads to deaths from hunger and disease, and raises the risk of crime and violence.

Consequently there must be a carefully targeted response to lockdown, coupled with increased personal responsibility. Banning large get-togethers unless all wear face masks covering both mouth and nose is a must. There is no doubt that wearing face masks properly is key to preventing the spread of the disease. Right now only 30 percent (according to our daily tally in our neighbourhood in Nairobi) wear face masks correctly and these are mainly women. At the coast the figure is far lower, at less than five percent.

Thus it is clear that personal responsibility is lacking to wear face masks, even by those who can afford them. A major campaign is required to alert the public in general and poor people especially. Methods of alert so far via television, radio and the press have unfortunately failed — even in sophisticated countries with higher readership and coverage. A new approach must include more social media and increased controls.

The campaign should feature the link between jobs, prosperity, and even lockdown, for each area where face-mask wearing is low or non-existent. Further, facemasks must be made free in the slums, and users coached on the need to wash them daily with soap and water.

Even in the best case scenario income levels will continue to be down, as external factors such as tourist flows suffer because of the pandemic.

But there is a modest solution. Economic activities, especially with incoming tourists, will increase if it is known how serious the government takes the personal responsibility of all Kenyans — as the President has so clearly been showing. Tourists should be encouraged to adopt mask-wearing as part of their own personal responsibility.

The bargain is therefore you do something for me dear tourist, face-masking and social distancing, and we’ll do something for you through ensuring the personal responsibility of our citizens. The latter includes what we are seeing now, the selective opening of hotels, bars and restaurants, with closure immediately invoked should they ignore their responsibilities.

We know of a case where a restaurant and bar owner on the beach pays for his staff out of his own pocket, ensures adequate table and social distancing, sanitises all touchable surfaces continuously, and only keeps negative-tested staff. The risk of infection is very low or non-existent, as the winds blow around his establishment. But he has closed. His staff are on minimal wages, and tourists have cancelled their stays.

The brave attempts to distribute desperately needed food are misguided. Cash is the key and then the poor can buy what they need. They will buy food and thereby stimulate local markets but they will not necessarily buy face masks, so these must be given free on condition of penalties if they don’t.

We noted before that cash transfers to vulnerable families increased mutual support between beneficiaries; reduced tensions; and improved relationships within the community. Even better news is that each Sh1,000 of cash assistance can generate more than double that, most of which will be spent locally. Then, with cash, people were able to buy what they most needed, whether food, rent or other essentials.

A huge difficulty is that corruption has led to most cash distribution schemes failing. There are too many steps to take, with slow and bureaucratic government mechanisms. As we suggested before, a basic income can be sent only to areas where poor people live, distributed via M-Pesa to those with mobile phones. Of course some will have more than one phone and others none — estimated at a mere three percent in the slums. But the sharing culture there would reduce the hardship of the few without.

As insisted before, our technical contacts at mobile phone companies are confident they can identify most poor people in the vicinity of a transmission mast through a technique known as “geo-fencing”. Yes, some people who don’t need the cash would be included. But if distributed after curfew it would exclude passers-by.

Worse, some who desperately need the cash might also be excluded. However, geo-fencing ensures that it is the people in need who do obtain the cash, while corruption can just about be eliminated.

Meanwhile the quest for perfection breeds paralysis. It is better to start now, since cash is desperately needed by the vulnerable. We therefore once more urge the government to urgently consider distributing a basic income for the poor in the slums of Kenya… coupled with a strong emphasis on personal responsibility.

Hopkins is Professor of CSR and co-founder Institute for Responsible Leadership
Eldon is Chairman, The DEPOT and co-founder Institute for Responsible Leadership
Munro is a former UN Senior Policy Adviser on Sustainable Development and MYSA Founder Chairman

Basic income for Kenya slums – government rises to the challenge

After months of trying, our group of four is delighted that the government has taken its first steps toward guaranteeing a basic income for the poor and vulnerable population. The government has announced to the Senate Ad-hoc committee on Covid-19 that it has identified 250,000 households which will be put on a weekly stipend in a bid to support the vulnerable families in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

We are pleased Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i said each family will be receiving Sh1,000 weekly, Sh4,000 a month, to enable them to meet their basic needs during the period of the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is not quite clear how the 250,000 households were identified as he said that the government had obtained mobile numbers of the targeted households and will have their stipends sent via mobile money service platforms. Happily, he targeted households spread across all low-income informal settlement areas in Kenya’s urban centres.

We had suggested the use of mobile phone masts located in the slums, through a process known as Geofenced Mobile Payments Option (GMP) to target the poorest through an area-based approach. A targeted approach to existing lists, as suggested by the government, may risk giving a sum of money to one household while the poorer household next door receives nothing.

Our approach took note of the 5,000 Safaricom and 2,000 Airtel mobile phone masts throughout Kenya and that mast capacity is based on calls per hour so more are in high-density areas (eg slums, CBD).

Indeed GMP may be needed weekly for a crisis and recovery period of at least 2-3 months and to the adult population of 4.9 million mobile phones in slums.  Then GMP at Sh1,000 weekly will total Sh4.9 billion per week while the government proposes a total of Sh1 billion per week.

The overhead costs of our GMP area approach would be minor but still allow local politicians to use their names so as to verify the sanctity of the cash received. The targeted approach of the government to an existing list of individuals or households could be more expensive than what we propose and not reach the population groups most in need.

We note too that basic needs, as defined by one of the authors for the World Employment Conference by the ILO as far back as the mid-1970s, included food, housing, health and education services.

A cash transfer allows households to decide where to allocate their money but also, compared with more expensively delivered food and other essentials, is cheaper to allocate. Cash also has a multiplier effect that goods don’t have, as cash is used by families to buy goods in the local area and thereby stimulate what economists call effective demand.

A multiplier effect can lead to up to two or three times the initial value thereby raising the wealth of small business and employed persons in families in close proximity to the original receiver. Yes, some people may abuse the cash transfer but studies in several countries have shown the multiplier effect enormously outweighs a small proportion of abusers.

We urge the government to widen and improve its highly welcome and praiseworthy first step to go the extra mile and use GMP to reach out to all 4.9 million slum dwellers. The result would not only alleviate hunger and health as the poor decide on how to spend their newfound income, but also improve security that the recent dreadful Kariobangi incident and others have mistakenly harmed.

Roll out basic income for the poor in slums

The government, the private sector and others have been working hard to help the poor through offering food, medical supplies, sanitisers and other essential products.

But there is increasing acceptance of the need for a basic income, that is cash transfers, for the 10 million poor people in Kenya’s slums as being the best approach to help them.

There is an emerging consensus that the optimum way to defuse or prevent potential conflict is to pay direct cash transfers to all individuals. Basic income is more powerful than supplying goods, as it also promotes livelihoods and so reduces poverty.

Cash is urgently needed to help the poor in the slums of Kenya. And the same is true for many countries across Africa and beyond, especially if the virus spreads significantly more than has been experienced to date.

The brave early attempt to distribute desperately needed food in Kibera slum resulted in some chaos. And while additional measures have since been put in place to ensure both security and better co-ordinated distribution, an alternative would be to benefit from the experience of UNHCR in Lebanon.

There, UNHCR found that when using its limited winterisation funds to pay cash transfers to vulnerable families, the basic income tended to increase mutual support between beneficiaries; reduce tensions; and improve relationships with the host community. There were also significant multiplier effects, with each $1 of cash assistance generating more than $2 for the Lebanese economy, most of which was spent locally.

Then, with cash, people were able to buy what they most needed, whether food, rent or other essentials (like now, here and elsewhere, face masks).

Similarly, the World Food Programme (WFP), which compared food distribution with cash distribution in three countries, found that in Ecuador, Uganda and (pre-war) Yemen cash transfers led to improved nutrition and this at lower cost. That experience led WFP to put more emphasis on cash transfers, so that today over a quarter of WFP’s aid globally is cash-based.

What next for Kenya? It seems to us that there is a clear need for a basic income. A small amount of Sh1,000 monthly for each individual, including children over 5, has been suggested, to be distributed via M-Pesa to those who have a mobile phone and live in a poor area. For a period of three months, a monthly payment would still require Sh30 billion.

While clearly such an amount would not be easy to be made available given that the government has so many demands on its services, we know that the most vulnerable are our top priority.

Then what delivery mechanism to use? Technical experts at mobile phone companies think they can identify most poor people in the vicinity of a transmission mast through a technique known as “Geo-Fencing”.


Hopkins is Professor of CSR and co-founder Institute for Responsible Leadership
Eldon is Chairman, The DEPOT and co-founder Institute for Responsible Leadership
Munro is former UN Senior Policy Adviser on Sustainable Development and MYSA Founder Chairman
Vater is a Nairobi-based social entrepreneur, investor, manager and serial entrepreneur