Uganda recently raised the age for welfare benefits to 80. At the same time, the government expanded the program to be universal across the country, thus both increasing and cutting the number of people who will receive benefits used for necessities.
It is estimated that 8 million Ugandans (out of 37.7 million people) live below the poverty line. With a faltering tradition of family support, people are forced to continue working past the point when they should. Generally, they continue with trade or small-scale farming. Those who are ill or otherwise unable to work doubly suffer.
In 2010, Uganda, together with the UK Department for International Development, Irish Aid and the United Nations Children’s Fund, began to create social pensions that assist those who have such precarious incomes.
As of July, Uganda’s welfare Senior Citizens grant, part of their Social Assistance Grants for Empowerment (SAGE) program, has raised their age of entry to 80, which cuts people out between the ages of 65 and 79 who had previously been eligible. These people will have no access to monthly benefits as of the upcoming year. However, at the same time, they expanded the grant so it is universal in Uganda. For the first 100,000 people who joined, the age for eligibility was 65, which was lowered to 60 in Karamoja due to the lower life expectancy there. After that number was reached, the government rolled out the pension to another 40 districts. However, with those districts, it was available only to the 100 oldest in a village. Now, the pension is universal, though the entry age is 80. As of June, according to HelpAge, more than 160,000 people have been enrolled in the program. Due to making everyone eligible, roughly 365,000 Ugandans now have the opportunity to receive a pension. The exact number is unclear.
There is also the problem of earlier deaths, possibly increased by the enlarged population of those living below the poverty line. Julius Mukunda, co-ordinator of the Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group, believes that the government’s failure to care for the elderly is because of their prioritization of political projects, according to The East African. Inflation pressures have also lowered power levels for SAGE benefits.
The non-contributory pension gives each person 25,000 Ugandan shillings, which converts to $7 US, each month. People use it for food, school supplies, and other necessities. "[The pension] has been instrumental in my life. When I get the money, I become happy. I have used it to buy a goat for my family to rear. I use it to pay school fees and buy books for my children," said Longora, an older man in Napak, Uganda, according to HelpAge.
Households that receive the grants have had their poverty reduced by 19 percent while spending has gone up 33 percent. Households also use the pension to further increase their income, for example by buying livestock. Children who are part of these households have been found to have better education and are less likely to be involved in child labor.
Several other countries in Africa, such as Mauritius, Kenya and Zanzibar, have implemented a social welfare pension, while Mozambique is planning to create a social protection program. However, issues persist, such as mobility issues in getting to the pay point, missing records, and financial abuse.
If the people receiving these pensions continue to speak out about how they have helped themselves and their families, they can hold their governments to account for how services are used. This assertion helps to reduce long-term problems such as financial abuse and other errors. It is each government’s responsibility to make sure citizens are aware of social protection programs and that those services are accessible, inclusive, and efficient.
NOEMI ARELLANO-SUMMER is a journalist and writer living in Boston, MA. She is a voracious reader and has a fondness for history and art. She is currently at work on her first novel and wants to eventually take a trip across Europe.