Key questions also need to be asked around the frequency with which the beneficiaries’ register is reviewed and updated
By Gloria Nakajubi
The Government's decision to review the age of eligibility for enrolment under the Social Assistance Grants for Empowerment (SAGE) can be justified considering the cash-strapped nature of our country but whether the way forward achieves the purpose is a question that still begs critical analysis.
From the current 65 years to 80 years for all new members starting next financial year 2019/20 to cover all the districts across the country points to the proverbial "one step forward, two steps backwards".
Recent studies put Uganda's life expectancy at 60 and 64 years for men and women respectively. This implies that there is a limited number of people above that age bracket and the figure dwindles further as you go up the scale. So, going after a dismal or even non-existent segment (80 and above) of the population only raises than answer questions on reducing vulnerability among the elderly.
Even at the current age of eligibility, only about 190,000 older persons are covered in 57 districts. That is almost half of the total 131 districts in the country. The age increase is therefore likely to grossly affect the number of beneficiaries as a percentage of the vulnerable population.
It is important to appreciate, as has been highlighted in a series of impact assessment studies both by government and private agencies, that the money paid out to the beneficiaries not only benefits the individuals but entire households.
Social protection is one of the catalysts for achieving the global 2030 targets with SDG 1.3 specifically calling out for the implementation of nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all, including floors, and by 2030 achieve substantial coverage of the poor and the vulnerable.
Currently, according to the International Labour Organisation's, World Social Protection Report 2017-19, only 2.9% of Uganda's population is covered by at least one social protection benefit. By continuously restricting the number of persons eligible under the SAGE program, the country is going back on the would-be progressive coverage of all vulnerable older persons as envisioned when the pilot project started back in 2010.
Key questions also need to be asked around the frequency with which the beneficiaries' register is reviewed and updated. This will in a way purge potential or actual system leakages.
The discussion, however, needs to be broader than just SAGE or the elderly. We need to kickstart a conversation on comprehensive and sustainable social protection interventions for all vulnerable persons Social protection is a mix of benefits for children and families, maternity, sickness, unemployment, old age, employment injury, disability among others. These can be addressed through a combination of contributory and non-contributory tax financed schemes such as SAGE.
Social protection policies, according to the ILO report, not only protect people from various shocks across the life cycle, but also play a key role in boosting domestic demand and productivity, supporting structural transformation of national economies and promoting decent work.
Investing in people is as important as investment in infrastructure. Not one at the cost of the other.
Writer is a media practitioner and development analyst