Extending social protection to families in the African context: the complementary role of formal and informal social security

Extending social protection to families in the African context: the complementary role of formal and informal social security

Role played by informal and formal social security in enhancing family solidarity in southern Africa

The paper assesses the complementary role played by informal and formal social security in enhancing family solidarity in the African, and particularly the southern African context. In addition, it explores the phenomenon that many African households survive on the basis of a combination of formal social security transfers and informal coping mechanisms. It finally explores possibilities for interaction between public or governmental interventions, on the one hand, and family or household support, on the other hand, viewed from the perspective of an integrated formal and informal social security approach. It addresses in particular possible avenues for strengthening informal social security and linking informal and formal social security arrangements.

The paper argues that, bearing in mind the partly-complementary, partly-regulatory, and partly-provisionary role to be fulfilled by public interventions, it should be clear that governmental measures should operate in particular where:

  • the nature of the risk is such that informal arrangements can rarely provide a sustainable and/or long-term solution, as is the case with large covariate risks156 or the provision of retirement benefits
  • informal arrangements may be effective in managing risk but are detrimental to long-term development goals – for example, decisive governmental measures may be required to eradicate child-labour practices which may be supportive of informal coping mechanisms, but are evidently harmful
  • it is necessary to adopt specific measures to support informal arrangements

The paper concludes that in the South African context, the combination of exclusion and marginalisation of large pockets of poor people, the constitutional imperative to provide access to social security and social assistance, the skewed nature of the present social security system and the extent of poverty, unemployment and inequality incidences, may warrant the adoption of a particular baseline approach, aimed at ensuring a minimum acceptable living standard. This approach may require the introduction of specific government-initiated measures to address income-poverty and to ensure temporary relief. It is evident that these measures will be of particular advantage to those who have to rely primarily on informal social security arrangements.