SAGE reduces poverty among recipients, says report

By Pascal Kwesiga

Currently, the scheme covers 61 districts. The intervention, which was launched in 2010, covers roughly 160,000 people.

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Two years ago, George William Makumbi, 81, a resident of Tente village in Kayunga district was bedridden.

He was helpless, and depressed. Makumbi could not raise money to hire either a motorcycle or vehicle to take him to a health facility. But he could not even seek proper treatment because he did not have money.

Yet his situation changed in March 2016. Makumbi was enrolled onto the Social Assistance Grants for Empowerment (SAGE) scheme. He sought treatment, and is now back on his feet. Makumbi used part of the grant to install solar equipment  for lighting and water containers which he uses to harvest water for domestic use.

"He installed solar in his house and another for his grandchildren. He said he feared his grandchildren could be burned by candles," the district SAGE coordinator, Collins Kafeero, said on Tuesday.

Makumbi is one of the over 800 recipients of SAGE grants in Kayunga. "Some of the recipients have bought goats and chickens for rearing. There is an old man who even remarried. He said he could not stay alone yet he had some money. Mukumbi can now eat fish which he loves so much," Kafeero stated.

A new study indicates that poverty has dropped by 19% among recipients of senior citizen grants. The survey also shows that expenditure in households, which senior citizens, who receive the grants, has improved by 33%.

Currently, the scheme covers 61 districts. The intervention, which was launched in 2010, covers roughly 160,000 people.  Funded by the UK Department for International Development - one of the funders of the scheme - the study was carried out by Development Pathways, a UK consulting firm.

It is based on analysis of documents such as the 2014 census report and household surveys generated by Uganda Bureau of Statistics and earlier assessments of the scheme. Over sh244b is said to have been expended on SAGE over a period of eight years.

"The pension had a positive impact on the ownership of productive assets such as livestock and appears to have led to a small increase in the supply of labour among working-age adults living with a pensioner," the report said.

It added the cash transfers have also had positive effects on children living in households with older persons. It reported improved education outcomes and reduction in child labour. The survey also shows that some of the recipients invest the grants in productive assets like livestock.

The beneficiaries, who are supposed to be above 65 years, receive sh50, 000 after each two months. However, the age for eligible beneficiaries was lowered to 60 for recipients in Karamoja. The disbursement of cash to senior citizens started in 2011 with less than 2,000 recipients under a pilot project.

"The scheme has helped to improve education outcomes: we detected a reduction in the share of children who never attended school, as well as increases in school attendance and the number of grades completed," the report said.

Recently, Parliament recommended a speedy rollout of the programme to cover all Ugandans aged 80 years and beyond. To achieve this, according to the gender, labour and social development ministry, which implements the project, the country requires sh142b.

The SAGE is a social protection intervention intended to enable older persons to access basic services, and if possible, invest the money to further improve their livelihoods and income security.

The Irish Aid and United Nations Children's Fund also finance the project. The Uganda Government provides counterpart funding.

The ministry's permanent secretary, Pius Bigirimana, said the outcome of the study and the previous ones show that social protection can contribute to faster socio-economic transformation for the country.                        

"These impacts also point to the need to scale up and roll out grants to the whole country so that the benefits to the whole economy are multiplied," he noted.

Stephen Kasaija, the head of SAGE at the ministry, said the study is unique because it covers the project's impact on beneficiaries, and uses the most recent data available in the national census and the 2017 household surveys.