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Updated by Florence Bonnet , Krzysztof Hagemejer , Adrian Shikwe on 05.07.2013

Zambia has a long history of contributory social security schemes, which are based on the social insurance model and limited to the provision of protection against the loss of income resulting from retirement, disability and death. Thus, scope of coverage is limited, and working women are often excluded as they are predominantly in informal jobs. The national social security institutions are the National Pensions Scheme Authority (NAPSA), the Public Service Pension Fund (PSPF) and the Local Authorities Superannuation Fund (LASF). In addition, there are a number of occupational pension schemes and an occupational disease and work injury scheme: the Workers' Compensation Fund under the Workers' Compensation Fund Control Board (WCFCB). 

Steps need to be taken to extend coverage for those in the formal sector, working with an employment contract, and to those in paid employment. This finding confirms that the majority of working people lack adequate social security coverage.

There are a number of non-contributory programmes in Zambia, they include the Public Welfare Assistance Scheme (PWAS), which is the oldest and largest scheme; a group of Social Cash Transfer Schemes financed by international donors and implemented under the PWAS; the Food Security Pack (FSP), which is a government-funded scheme providing basic agricultural inputs, technology transfers and training to vulnerable small-scale family households; the School-Feeding Programme, funded by the World Food Programme; and Project Urban Self-Help, which is a government-funded public works programme.

Although the existing non-contributory programmes are intended to provide assistance to a wide range of poor and vulnerable groups, the actual effective scope of coverage is low, e.g., PWAS targets 2 per cent of the population but reaches much smaller numbers of people and their households. In all cases these programmes, due to very limited available resources and low capacity, reach only a small portion of the vulnerable groups they are supposed to cover.

There are numerous pilot cash transfer schemes in operation in Zambia. Cash transfers can be defined as one kind of social transfer involving regular and predictable payments to vulnerable households or individuals in order to ensure a minimum level of well-being and which can take the form of income support, child grants, disability benefits, foster care grants, scholarships and stipends, or non-contributory social pensions. Cash transfers can also be designed to be conditional, linking the granting of cash benefits to certain objectives usually linked to human development, for example child allowances tied to regular school attendance (Chapman, 2006, DFID, 2005). In Zambia, cash transfers are a relatively new yet increasingly accepted means of affording social protection to the most vulnerable, and so far have been implemented in five districts of two provinces. The majority of cash transfer programmes in Zambia are unconditional.

The first programme to implement cash transfers in Zambia began in 2003 as a pilot scheme in Kalomo District of Southern Province. The Kalomo scheme initially began as a pilot to investigate the feasibility, costs, benefits and impact of social cash transfers to very poor families. Ten per cent of the most destitute or incapacitated households were targeted, with priority given to single-parent households, those headed by the elderly and orphans afflicted by extreme poverty, hunger and work incapacitation. Selection of beneficiaries was done through a participatory process at local level by Community Welfare Assistance Committees (CWACs).

Besides the Kalomo pilot, cash-transfer programmes have also been introduced in numerous areas in Zambia, including the Kazungula District in Southern Province, which has been run since January 2005 by MCDSS with technical support from CARE International with funding from the UK Department for International Development (DFID). In addition, in the Mongu and Kaoma Districts Western Province, where, with funding from DFID, Oxfam Zambia ran a time-bound emergency response cash transfer scheme between November 2005 and March 2006, in response to a seasonal drought. Between 10,500 and 13,500 households received benefits during the period of operation. In the Katete District in Eastern Province, a cash transfer pilot was run by MCDSS with support by CARE International to provide a universal pension scheme targeting 1000 households.

These schemes generally follow the Kalomo design, though some have innovated in areas such as target groups, level of benefits and conditions for receiving benefits. The overall experience with cash transfers in Zambia has been positive. Crucially, evaluations of the first pilot scheme in Kalomo awarded it high scores for design, implementation and impact.

The existing health care system is inequitable in terms of expenditure and service delivery; and Zambia is heavily reliant on donor funding. The highly uneven distribution of medical staff is a major constraint. The Government is working to achieve a better balance of revenue allocation. Unfortunately, vulnerable groups and citizens living in hard-to-reach and insecure areas experience difficulties in gaining access to services. This has led to continued high mortality in children. Importantly, the Government has more or less removed the payment of user-fees in rural areas for primary care. This has led to a 50-per-cent increase in the use of medical facilities in these areas.

HIV/AIDS represents the greatest share of Zambia's current health burden; and its strong link to poverty makes it a major threat to the country's development. The Government, in partnership with the Global Fund and other partners, has scaled up its provision of ART in public institutions at a highly subsidized cost. But coverage is not uniform across the country and large numbers of people are still not covered. 

Way forward

Currently the UK Department for International Development (DFID) is funding an ILO project - the ILO Global Campaign for Social Protection and Coverage for all: As a means to reducing poverty in Africa and Asia - this is a joint project for Tanzania Mainland, Zanzibar, and Zambia. For Zambia the Social Protection Expenditure and Performance Review (SPER) and a Social Budget (SB) has been produced for Zambia. 

Given this relatively favourable context, it is an appropriate time to examine the performance of the Zambian Government and other public social actors (e.g., donors, NGOs and businesses) in improving the options for the population to make a decent living, notably by gradually extending the scope and coverage of the national social security (social protection) system.

A key issue is how to extend coverage in a highly informal labour market environment. The predominantly informal nature of the labour market presents a major challenge to the extension of social protection coverage.

A minimum package of universally acceptable benefits would be affordable - targeted social assistance and a universal pension would cost less than 1 per cent of GDP. A universal but limited child benefit scheme (first child only) would have higher start-up costs (1.2 per cent of GDP) but would reduce over time. The Zambian Government has indicated an interest in financing a pilot universal pension scheme, and this work is being investigated further. 

*Growth rates were obtained from UN Population Division estimates (UN, 2006). The total population in sub-Saharan Africa grew at a higher rate than Zambia's: 2.7 per cent during the 1990s.