By Gloria Nakajubi
For many social protection enthusiasts, the planned national rollout of the Social Assistance Grants for Empowerment (SAGE) was one of the key issues to look forward to in the June 13th National Budget speech.
Government at the end of 2018 committed to a national rollout of the SAGE programme targeting older persons aged 80 years and above. This was to be effected in the financial year 2019/20. However, the fact that this was not mentioned by the Finance Minister and subsequently in the President’s address is not only disappointing but also worrying.
The budget already shows a glaring shortfall with sh29.38b of the sh142b required for the national rollout to be effected not provided for.
Old age vulnerability remains a major challenge in Uganda. Around 71% of households with an older person are either in extreme poverty or are highly vulnerable to falling into extreme poverty with even a small shock to their income. About 85% of the active older persons are engaged in crop farming with no social security and only 7.1% of older persons have access to a pension, of which 60% are males.
Attempts to achieve inclusive growth and social economic transformation, the core theme of this year’s budget but also the overall National Development Plan 11(NDP11) can only be demonstrated through financial commitments to interventions that directly target the vulnerable population.
The NDP11, now in its final year and indeed Uganda’s Vision 2040 elaborately affirm the role of social protection as a critical intervention in human capital development necessary for driving the country to middle-income status. Many Ugandans however, according to NDP11, have no access to social security, Direct Income Support (DIS) or social care services in times of hardship. This results in a high level of vulnerability to shocks and persistent poverty.
Effective implementation of the SAGE is key in providing a benchmark for a comprehensive social protection scheme in the country. According to the World Bank, well-designed social protection programs are cost-effective, costing countries on average about 1.5% of GDP. Uganda’s public investment in Social Protection is estimated at only 0.78% of GDP.
Investing in social protection is a prerequisite for attaining middle-income status as it has a demonstration impact of reducing the poverty gap in the country.
The writer is a Media personality, Development analyst and Social Protection Advocate.