Realising income security in old age: A study into the feasibility of a universal old age pension in Malawi
Many governments in developing countries are setting up non-contributory programs to assist older people, most of whom are not covered by formal pension schemes. Malawi is no stranger to the international advancement of social security and social protection. That said, further analysis on the implementation and the role of social pensions in tackling old-age poverty was needed to inform government policy and practice.
The aim of the study was to address the knowledge gap of social pension reforms in Malawi. The study examined what has been learned from the programs operating in different African countries, and highlights the key policy and budgetary issues that arise. The study has concluded that social pensions represent an important component of an institutional foundation for old-age social protection.
There are affordable options for Malawi to begin expanding a universal pension in the coming years. Various scenarios exist for universal pensions costing a fraction of GDP, which could be financed through wider efforts to increase revenue for social protection spending. Malawi could then seek to
increase the coverage and adequacy of a universal pension as more revenue can be secured, and as the economy grows.
The path chosen will depend on the political will of the government, but a potential option would be:
- make a start but introducing a relatively low cost scheme, such as benefit of MWK 3,720 to over 70s (a cost of 0.4 per cent of GDP). This would be in line with current levels of fiscal space, and would also allow for administrative systems to be developed gradually before rolling out to national level
- as soon as possible, expand the scheme to all older people aged 60 years and over. This would recognise the relatively short life expectancy in Malawi, and that many of the challenges of old age can kick in relatively early
- in the longer run, move towards a benefit level at the level of the national poverty line (approximately MWK 8,750 in 2016 prices), to ensure that no older person lives in poverty. This higher level of adequacy can be achieved both through growth of the economy, and also by devoting increased revenue to the scheme