Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli announced that the beneficiaries of Egypt’s cash-transfer Takaful (solidarity) programme would henceforward be limited to two children instead of the earlier three for eligible families this week, starting in January 2019.
The decision is intended to help save the funds needed to include more families under the umbrella of the programme, which aims to provide cash subsidies and healthcare for families with children of school age, on the condition that the children attend school regularly.
“The data used to administer the programme is updated every three years. After ensuring that a family is eligible to receive cash transfers and after the relevant data is updated, that family is allowed to continue receiving cash support for two children only. Families new to the programme will also be enrolled with only two children,” Niveen Al-Kabbag, deputy minister of social solidarity, told Al-Ahram Weekly.
“This condition aims to enrol more families in the programme, whose resources are limited,” she added.
No families have been enrolled in the programme over the past eight months due to a lack of resources. Families who have ceased to be eligible for the transfers have also been delisted from the programme, Al-Kabbag stated.
The state has been offering Takaful and Karama (dignity) payments since 2015, hoping to target eligible strata of the population by income. Karama is a cash-transfer programme that targets the elderly, people with special needs, widows and divorced women.
“The Ministry of Social Solidarity has decided to limit cash transfers to families with two children only because of the programme’s limited resources and the fact that many families are waiting to be enrolled in the programme,” Heba Al-Leithi, advisor to the Takaful and Karama programmes, said, adding that the new conditions could unfortunately negatively affect families with more than two children already qualifying for the programme.
Al-Leithi said that the ministry supported families with another child by providing job opportunities through the Forsa (opportunity) programme.
This was launched in January 2017 to complement Takaful and Karama by enabling members of families benefiting from the programmes to generate income by gaining job opportunities through soft loans and vocational and occupational training.
The ministry also wants to link such families to civil-society groups and NGOs in order to help support any children no longer qualifying for the cash-transfer programmes. These will usually be the oldest in the family, so that the younger children get a chance to enrol in education.
The state has been applying the two cash-transfer programmes in villages where poverty rates reach 70 per cent.
Upper Egypt has received 72 per cent of the programmes’ budget, with Qena, Assiut, Sohag, Beni Sweif and Minya being at the top of the list of governorates benefiting from the cash-transfer programmes.
Since their launch, the Takaful and Karama programmes have cost LE21 billion, 85 per cent of which is paid from the state budget and the rest through a loan from the World Bank.
The Ministry of Social Solidarity’s website put the number of families benefiting from the programmes at mid-November at 1.921 million.
Takaful pays LE60 to families for children under six years old, LE80 for children in elementary school, LE100 for pupils in the preparatory phase, and LE140 for secondary school students.
The state intends to merge the Takaful and Karama programmes into the social security system to form one universal benefit system. The programmes’ healthcare and education conditions will also be followed through in cooperation with the ministries of health and education.
The ministry said in a statement that 100 per cent of Takaful children are enrolled in school. There are five million children in the programme, two million of which are under six years old.
These children receive periodical vaccines and their mothers receive follow-up on their reproductive health under the programme.
“Families benefiting from cash transfers should commit to a number of conditions, including taking their children under six years old to a healthcare clinic four times a year to receive their shots and follow up on their growth. Children should attend at least 80 per cent of the time at school, and mothers should receive ante-natal care,” Al-Kabbag explained.
With the application of the new conditions, 30 per cent of the cash support will be deducted from families that do not follow through on their children’s education and healthcare. They can receive the whole sum if they recommit to the conditions, however.
Al-Kabbag said that the programmes work according to Egypt’s poverty map, allocating more than 70 per cent of their budget to Upper Egypt.
A database of more than 25 million people has been set up to track the payments, and this is expected to rise to 30 million by the end of the year.
Digitalising the programmes had helped to curb abuses, she added.
According to Hania Al-Shalqami, a researcher at the Social Studies Centre at the American University in Cairo, the programmes have been successful, notably according to an evaluation conducted by the World Bank’s Food Policies Centre.
However, the Forsa scheme is weak in terms of the number of people benefiting from it, Al-Shalqami said, adding that the programme needed more efforts to provide more job opportunities to help families make up for removing their children from the other programmes.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 29 November, 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Fewer children, more families