01.04.01. Social protection schemes | Kenya

01.04.01. Social protection schemes | Kenya

02 Mar 2022

Several countries have adopted social protection strategies to reduce poverty levels and inequalities. In Kenya, social protection has been implemented using non-contributory and contributory schemes in the areas of social assistance (cash transfer and school-feeding programmes), social security and health insurance.

Cash transfer programmes

(National Gender and Equality Commission, 2014) – to support access to health care, food, school retention for children, social support networks, self-esteem and dignity. In 2016, the total coverage was 519,878 households (table 1), accounting for only 3.8% of the total expenditure among the bottom 20% of the population (cash transfer for orphans and vulnerable children (CT-OVC), the older persons cash transfer (OPCT), cash transfer for persons with severe disability (CT-PwSD); and Hunger Safety Net Program (HSNP) for chronically poor people (International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/The World Bank, 2018). The OP-CT program, which received the highest allocation (3 billion) among the above listed cash transfer programmes during the 2018/19 financial year only covered about 3% of all households in Kenya in 2015/16 (International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/The World Bank, 2018). Other programs such as the CT-OVC, HSNP and CT-PwSD received Sh7.95 billion, Sh4.5 billion and Sh1.2 billion, respectively (Business Daily, 2018). This shows an increase in budgetary allocation for all direct cash transfer programmes from 8 billion shillings in 2013 to over 30 billion shillings in 2017 (The World Bank, 2019). Together, all four direct transfer programs account for close to 1.5% of household expenditure across the entire population (International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/The World Bank, 2018). In April 2020, the government allocated 33 billion Kenyan shillings during the COVID-19 pandemic to enable older persons and the vulnerable population to buy food. This funding has increased by 7 billion since end of 2019 (Okoth, 2020).

Table 1: Summary of the four main cash transfer programs in Kenya

Programme Year Launched Implementing Agency Transfer value (per month in KSHS) Target Counties


Coverage (2015) Coverage (2019)
Households Households (coverage)
Cash Transfer for Orphans and Vulnerable Children 2005 Department of Children’s Services 2550 per household 47 255,643 353,000 (29%)
Older Persons Cash Transfer targeting those aged 65 and above 2006 Department of Gender and Social Development 2000 47 162,695 833,129 (78%)
Persons with Severe Disabilities Cash Transfer 2011 Department of Gender and Social Development 2000 47 25,471 47,000 (3%)
Hunger Safety Net Programme targeting residents of Wajir, Turkana, Mandera and Marsabit counties with food insecurity. 2007 HSNP Secretariat 2000 4 84,340 374, 000

Source: (Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA), 2019; Ministry of Labour and East African Affairs (MLEAA), 2016)

Social protection coverage in Kenya is relatively low compared to other African countries such as Uganda and South Africa. This is due to inadequate budget allocation that has resulted in low coverage and impact on poverty reduction. It is therefore essential to expand these programmes in order to reduce the poverty head count rate (Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA), 2019). It is however important to note that the current trend on increasing budget allocation to social protection schemes is promising and would improve the economy of the country if synergistic investment measures could be put in place to tackle gaps in other sectors. The government of Kenya has either solely come up with and funded these programs or partnered with other organizations at national and international levels.

Another safety net programme in Kenya is food distribution including school feeding and emergency relief food programmes. Relief food is mainly distributed in arid and semi-arid areas during drought and famine seasons while school feeding programmes are intended to keep children in school during food shortages (Republic of Kenya, 2011). Below are specific examples of these programmes (HGSM, 2019):

  • The Njaa Marufuku Kenya Programme (NMKP) (Swahili word translated as eradicate hunger) led by the Ministry of Agriculture targets regions that have high to medium potential to grow food and reaches over 44, 000 children in 66 schools. The programme also provides fertilizers to local small holder farms and trains and farmers to enable them to produce excess and sell to schools. NMKP runs for a maximum of three years after which the communities manage the programme or seek the support of Home Grown School Meals Programme (HGSM).
  • The Home Grown School Meals Programme (HGSM) is led by the Ministry of Education and feeds 600, 000 school children in 1800 schools located in 66 semi-arid districts with midday meal (cereals, pulses, oil and salt). The government transfers funds to this programme so that food is purchased locally.
  • The kazi kwa vijana (jobs for youth) safety net programme established in 2008 to absorb young people into the job market faced management and logistical shortcomings (Republic of Kenya, 2011) and was cancelled by the World Bank.
National Social Security Fund (NSSF)

(National Social Security Fund, 2019) – provides social security protection in the form of lump sum payments upon retirement for formal and informal workers (members and their dependents). At the end of 2016/17, the total number of members was 6.8 million (Mugo et al., 2018) out of a total of approximately 24 million eligible people (falling under the category of early to mature working age i.e. (15 to 64 years)). To become a member, individuals (regardless of the cadre, permanent or casual employees, employed or self-employed etc) and businesses are required to register with NSSF and pay contributions before 15th of each month to avoid attracting interests on a monthly basis.

National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF)

– This is the main health insurer in Kenya covering 19% of the population, with other private insurers covering 1% of the population (Kazungu & Barasa, 2017). Free inpatient health care services are available to formal and informal sector employees remitting monthly contributions to NHIF, but outpatient services are only available to civil servants. Contribution for formal sector employees is mandatory while for informal sector is voluntary. It is therefore possible that the 11% of the population covered within this scheme is comprised of mainly formal sector employees. The informal sector employees are not able to afford the monthly contributions (USD 5) because their income is unpredictable and they are not organized into sizeable groups which makes it difficult to register and collect contributions effectively (Barasa, et al., 2018).


The social protection programmes outlined above face five challenges, which need to be addressed to improve the efficiency of the interventions. These include: (i) lack of effective coordination of the programmes due to implementation by different ministries and in different departments. This complex organizational structure reduces the efficiency of service delivery and strain on the inadequate administrative resources (Oxford policy Management, 2019); (ii) lack of universalism across programmes leading to enrolment of ineligible people and exclusion of eligible people; (iii) inadequate structures to facilitate timely exit, graduation and sustainability mechanisms. For instance, the structures necessary for removing those who no longer qualify for support e.g., social protection assistance are inadequate; (iv) lack of funding to finance social protection programmes and (v) lack of comprehensive legislation on social protection. However, there is a high degree of policy interest in social protection interventions, evidenced by an increase in funding for cash transfers to support the vulnerable populations in Kenya. The continued interest can bridge the gap between social protection research, programming and policy (PASGR and AIHD, 2017). The UHC pilot that was launched in 2018 will also increase health care access to all populations and protect vulnerable populations from financial consequences of accessing and receiving health care.

The government also introduced the National Identify Management System (NIMS) to register all Kenyans (through a unique identifier locally referred to as “Huduma Namba” (huduma means “service” in Kiswahili)). This was done by collating biometric details, identity documents and physical addresses. The purpose of the unique number was to improve service delivery to all citizens including health care without necessarily using the actual health insurance cards since the information is integrated within the NHIS. The uptake of registration was slow by Kenyans due to concerns over privacy and data security or protest to the government’s threats such as being locked out of government services or imprisonment of one to five years or fine of between $10,000 and $50,000, for transacting without the Huduma Number (Mungai, 2019; Nyabola, 2019).


Barasa, E., Rogo, K., Mwaura, N., & Chuma, J. (2018). Kenya National Hospital Insurance Fund Reforms: Implications and Lessons for Universal Health Coverage. Health Systems & Reform, 4(4), 346–361. https://doi.org/10.1080/23288604.2018.1513267

Business Daily. (2018). World Bank asks Kenya to expand cash transfer plan for poor. 18 July. https://www.businessdailyafrica.com/bd/economy/world-bank-asks-kenya-to-expand-cash-transfer-plan-for-poor-2211492

HGSM. (2019). The Home Grown School Meals programme (HGSM) in Kenya. World Food Programme, Novermber 2018. https://docs.wfp.org/api/documents/WFP-0000105578/download/

International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/The World Bank. (2018). Fiscal Incidence Analysis for Kenya: Using the Kenya Integrated Household Budget Survey 2015/16. Washington, DC. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/30263/Kenya-Fiscal-Incidence-Analysis.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

Kazungu, J. S., & Barasa, E. W. (2017). Examining levels, distribution and correlates of health insurance coverage in Kenya. Tropical Medicine & International Health, 22(9), 1175–1185. https://doi.org/10.1111/tmi.12912

Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA). (2019). Social Protection Budget Brief (No. 67/2018-2019). Nairobi, Kenya. https://repository.kippra.or.ke/bitstream/handle/123456789/2278/social-protection-budget-brief-pb67.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

Ministry of Labour and East African Affairs (MLEAA). (2016). Inua Jamii – Towards a more effective National Safety Net for Kenya Progress Report. https://www.socialprotection.or.ke/images/downloads/NSNP-Progress-Report_March_2016.pdf

Mugo, P., Onsomu, E., Munga, B., Nafula, N., Mbithi, J., & Owino, E. (2018). An Assessment of Healthcare Delivery in Kenya under the Devolved System (No. Special Paper No. 19). Nairobi, Kenya. https://repository.kippra.or.ke/bitstream/handle/123456789/2095/an-assessment-of-healthcare-delivery-in-kenya-under-the-devolved-system-sp19.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

Mungai, C. (2019). Kenya’s Huduma: Data commodification and government tyranny. https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2019/8/6/kenyas-huduma-data-commodification-and-government-tyranny

National Gender and Equality Commission. (2014). Participation of vulnerable populations in their own programmes.The cash transfers in Kenya. https://www.ngeckenya.org/Downloads/cash-transfer-programme-vulnerable-groups-kenya.pdf

National Social Security Fund. (2019). National Social Security Fund website. https://www.nssfug.org

Nyabola, N. (2019). If you are a Kenyan citizen, your private data is not safe. https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2019/2/24/if-you-are-a-kenyan-citizen-your-private-data-is-not-safe

Okoth, J. (2020, April). Cash Transfers to Vulnerable Kenyans. The Kenyan Mall STreet. Nairobi, Kenya. https://kenyanwallstreet.com/cash-transfers-to-vulnerable-kenyans/

Oxford Policy Management. (2019). Social protection in Kenya: improving cash transfer programmes. https://www.opml.co.uk/projects/social-protection-kenya-improving-cash-transfer-programmes

PASGR and AIHD. (2017). Strengthening Kenya’s social protection agenda through research, prgramming and policy (Vol. 2). http://www.pasgr.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Strengthening-Kenyas-Social-Protection-Agenda-through-Research-Programming-and-Policy-Policy-Brief-1.pdf

Republic of Kenya. (2011). Kenya National Social Protection Policy. Nairobi, Kenya. https://www.socialprotection.or.ke/images/downloads/kenya-national-social-protection-policy.pdf

The World Bank. (2019). In Kenya, Uplifting the Poor and Vulnerable Through a Harmonized National Safety Net System. https://www.worldbank.org/en/results/2019/04/18/in-kenya-uplifting-the-poor-and-vulnerable-through-a-harmonized-national-safety-net-system