N$2 000 maternity grant on the table

28 June 2019 | Health

An ambitious plan to strengthen social protection in the country includes strengthened maternity benefits for all Namibian women, including a universal one-off N$2 000 maternity grant and four months maternity leave, instead of three.

The draft social protection document, currently under stakeholder review, also recommends the lifting of the current ceiling of maternity pay to full earnings, so that women don't experience a dip in income while caring for their newborns.

The draft document also proposes a universal child grant for all Namibian children starting at N$250 per child, in order to address serious flaws in the current system, which often excludes poor families struggling to survive, but who do not qualify for a child grant.

It stresses that maternity is “a time of great joy for families”, but “is also a time of great risk for women and unborn children, especially those who have no employment or earn low incomes”.

Moreover, women who are employed lose part of their pay cheque when they take maternity leave, because of the N$13 000 ceiling in the current maternity, sick leave and death benefit fund.





Many employers refuse to fill the gap to ensure their female employees do not experience a dip in earnings during this time. “This necessitates a policy decision to establish a maternity grant in Namibia, reconsider maternity leave and ensure full earnings for women on maternity leave,” the document states. It notes that a maternity grant is “affordable in Namibia at the estimated 68 832 births per year, with a transfer of N$2 083 per birth costing just N$143 million, or 0.07% of GDP per annum”.

A universal maternity grant for all pregnant women for one month pre-natal and three months post-partum time will “support them to address risks exacerbated by unemployment, low income, as well as loss of income during maternity leave”.



Kids

The reform proposals on a universal child grant note that the current means test that provides the benefit only to parents who earn less than N$1 000 per month, “does not consider the number of children the parent is taking care of, meaning those with large numbers of children earning just more than this would be excluded, yet they are clearly poor”.

The policy says the problem will be addressed if a grant is “available to all children”.

The cost of the grant would be moderated with gradual implementation and by keeping the grant amount modest, which in turn will keep the registration of the wealthy 20% of the population low because of the modest amount.

The draft further notes that more than 80% of Namibians are not covered by health insurance and proposes a compulsory national medical benefit fund to spread risks across the pool, as well as better state investment in public health facilities and personnel to “improve affordability of healthcare in Namibia”.

The draft proposals also target marginalised Namibians, unemployed persons, affordable housing, improved vocational and university assistance, food security, pensioners and those living and caring for people with disabilities.

A basic income is suggested for unemployed persons between 30 to 59 years old, “who shoulder heavy family and childcare responsibilities will be implemented to afford them a basic ability to help themselves while restoring their dignity”.



Equality

At the opening of a workshop in Windhoek this week where stakeholders were given a chance to provide feedback, poverty eradication and social welfare minister Zephania Kameeta underlined that social protection is not a “question of charity, but a question of human rights and justice”.

While the policy would nearly double expenditure for social protection, Kameeta said a comprehensive and inclusive social protection policy can help eradicate extreme poverty by 2025 and beyond in Namibia.

The draft policy adopts a broad view of social protection that is composed of social assistance, social insurance, social welfare services and labour market policies to help the country eradicate poverty and reduce inequality.

The document was drafted over the past year by a core team representing experts from local and international institutions, and was crafted in line with systems proven to work in Namibia, as well as international best practice.

“The policy outlines reasonable measures to help people manage risks in their lives and address vulnerabilities of women, children, youth, unemployed individuals, persons with disability and those in retirement,” the document states. The policy is aimed at streamlining social protection systems in Namibia and addressing current challenges, including coordination, monitoring and evaluations. The policy also proposes enhanced support for quality vocational training, paid skills apprenticeships and internships.

Moreover, among several other in-depth proposals, a women and youth enterprise fund is proposed, to provide credit for viable business ideas.

JANA-MARI SMITH

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