By Stephen Ssenkaaba
When it is finally rolled out to the rest of the country, the Senior Citizens Grant Scheme – the government’s initiative to provide financial assistance to the country’s elderly – is expected to cover over 80% of people aged 65 years and above in Uganda.
Mary Karooro Okurut, the minister of gender labour and social development, spoke about the government’s plan to expand the grant to the rest country.
She said: “We estimate that national rollout of the Senior Citizens Grants will deliver a basic level of income security to around 1.3 million older people.”
The minister further mentioned that the rollout would “reach a total of 5.7 million Ugandans living in households with older people including around 4.4 million children and 60 per cent of Uganda’s orphans and vulnerable children”.
This, she added, directly translates into a 16% reduction in the national poverty rate.
According to statistics estimates, there are 1.4 million elderly people in Uganda. By covering 1.3 million, the scheme will therefore have provided for a greater majority of this vulnerable group.
Karooro said that the elderly in Uganda are in a particularly vulnerable position and therefore need government support.
“Historically, older people have been cared for by families and communities in Uganda. However, due to widespread poverty and vulnerability … these traditional social protection mechanisms are under strain. As a result, old age poverty and income insecurity is a growing problem.”
She highlighted other problem factors that include: armed conflicts, rapid modernisation, changing attitudes, urbanisation and cross-cutting issues such as HIV/AIDS.
Senior citizens need support because they play a critical role in the family support system.
According to 2012 report by the Ministry of gender, labour and social development on poverty, vulnerability and equity in Uganda, 72% of older persons are heads of households.
The report also indicates that 2.1 million children live under the care of older person. Despite these challenges, however, older people do not have a stable source of income.
SAGE to boost the elderly
The Senior Citizens Grant Scheme is a core component of the Social Assistance Grants for Empowerment(SAGE) programme, a cash transfer scheme initiated by the government in 2011 to lift elderly people out of poverty.
The programme, run by the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development has been running as a pilot in 14 districts including: Amudat, Apac, Kaberamaido, Katakwi, Kiboga, Kole, Kyankwanzi, Kyegegwa, Kyenjojo, Moroto, Nakapiripirit, Napak, Nebbi and Zombo.
The scheme targets older people aged 65 years and above (except in Karamoja where the age of eligibility is 60 years and above due to the extreme poverty and reduced life expectancy in the region).
Beneficiaries receive sh50,000 every two months – equivalent to a monthly payment of sh25,000 per month.
The payment amount is increased by a small amount every year. Payments are delivered directly to beneficiaries at selected collection centres through MTN Uganda’s MobileMoney service.