Kasaija told The Independent in a telephone interview that the government will have to find Shs373 billion every year to roll out the stipend scheme to all older persons aged 65 years and above including those who are aged 60 years and above in the northeastern region of Karamoja. That sounds like a lot of money without donor support.
But John Charles Orach, the CSOs representative at the National Council for Older Persons told The Independent on Feb.28 that the government can find the money.
“If there is political will, all the eligible elderly people would be getting this money,” he said, “Look at how much has been made available to install security cameras around Kampala or the cars and escorts the government wants to buy for MPs.”
Orach told The Independent that there is need for this programme to be scaled across the country because poverty levels in Uganda are so high that any amount of money is welcome.
“The amount might sound so little but half a loaf is better than no loaf.”
Orach said there is no doubt that social protection programmes like SAGE contribute to the economy.
Two independent evaluations of the first phase and second phase of the programme in 2015 and 2018 have found that social assistance grants for the elderly have improved food security in households with an older person.
It has also improved nutrition in households with young children and brought about a 14.2% increase in primary and secondary school attendance.
In districts where the social protection programme for the elderly is active, studies show that employment has grown in comparison to districts where the programme is not active.
Findings from recent studies by a consortium of researchers from the Universities of Maastricht in the Netherlands, Manchester (U.K) and Makerere University’s School of Social Sciences on the “Economic Case for Investments in Social Protection in Uganda,” also revealed that small grassroots businesses benefit more from SAGE grants.
The researchers said SAGE makes a lot of impact on processes that enhance households to engage in the productive activities like improving access to credit, transport and communication thereby improving access to better markets and prices and poverty reduction.
Orach said what needs to be done now is to refocus and widen the age-group—from those who are aged 80 years and above to 60 years and above.
“A person aged 80 years and above is too frail to do anything with it. The active age group is between 60-80 years,” Orach said. Still, he says it is a good start and they will continue engaging the government to lower the age for beneficiaries.
Dignifying old people’s lives
At the reception, Jacob Opolot (MP, Pallisa County) who is also the Chairperson of the Uganda Parliamentary Forum on Social Protection agreed with Muhumuza saying social protection is about “elevating human dignity in Uganda.”
“Some people say this money is too small for the beneficiaries; that they will just drink it but I have seen what that little money can do.”
Opolot recalled one incident in Kiboga when an old lady who had been bed-ridden and gone 12 months without getting her money eventually got paid.
“The day she was discharged, she was given a list of prescription drugs to buy but she did not have a coin,” he said, “When she heard that Post Bank would be in her community to pay the enrolled people, she was supported by her grandchildren, came to the centre and went through the process.”
“When she was paid her money totaling Shs 300,000, she literally fell down and cried.”
Muhumuza says millions of Ugandans are struggling because many Ugandan families still depend on subsistence farming for livelihoods and without robust social protection programmes, transforming their lives is quite difficult.
“There are lots of things that hamper them that even when they move, they keep falling back. This is because we have not done enough on social protection.”
“It’s like every time we pick water in a basket and we reach home with very little and we keep going back to the well and we are going to keep doing that for a very long time.”
“Social protection is the ultimate key to the country’s guaranteed security and embracing it will increase the government’s ability to respond to major economic shocks that we are not able to manage at the moment,” Muhumuza said.