– I always buy bags of corn, rice and beans, 89-year-old Constantino Biggero tells us with a smile. He is one of about 300,000 elderly people in the country covered by the state-funded old-age benefits scheme.
The scheme was gradually expanded – from being a pilot project in some areas to today covering the entire country. But it is currently restricted to seniors over the age of 80.
met with great suspicion
For many years, there was significant opposition both in aid circles and among many political leaders in developing countries against “distributing money” to the poor.
People were going to be lazy, it was a common argument. Another said they wanted to get drunk. A third said that developing countries could not afford it.
But then a number of countries, including in Latin America, began to experiment with government cash support programs. The authorities gave the people money directly into their hands rather than going through organizations and aid workers.
And the results of many of these programs – targeting different vulnerable populations – turned out to be very good.
Asian and African countries eventually followed, with countries like Brazil and Mexico showing the way with various forms of monetary support. In Africa, South Africa was among the countries that were early on to experiment with these subsidy schemes.
Started in 2010
In Uganda, the old-age benefits program has been tested since 2010. It was first tried in some areas, then gradually expanded on a larger scale.
Reviews for her clear conclusionsExtreme poverty, destitution and hunger were significantly reduced in the families that received the support. Not only the elderly, but their family members also had an easier life.
Researchers report that the status and reputation of older adults within their families has also increased.
Gradually, the program for improving conditions for the elderly was expanded to the whole country. Every two months, everyone over the age of 80 receives a payment, totaling approximately NOK 140 each – paid by the Ugandan state. Especially for those who live in the countryside, it is an important additional income.
What do you use the money for?
News of the assistance was released in Uganda and spoke to five social security recipients and their families. We asked them why they used the money.
Deborah Nakazebo He (83) lives in the Tapaleku district of the capital, Kampala. She has been a widow for seven years. The man was a farmer.
She lives with her son, who is a priest, and an eight-year-old grandson. The family has income from renting rooms.
– When the pension is due, I am always very happy. Then I buy milk, sugar, and all the food I’ve been craving, like meat, she says.
– It was God who sent me this money, so before it is completely exhausted I will also give ten percent to the church.
Constantino Biggero He buys 50 kilograms of corn and rice when his old-age pension arrives.
Constantino Biggero (89 years old) lives in Tipaleku District, Kampala. He is married and lives with his wife. They are responsible for some of the grandchildren who take care of them.
His wife Serafina Nirakamzi, 78, is currently too young to receive an old-age benefit.
Two grandchildren are doing good jobs, one is an agriculture teacher and the other is a doctor in another town.
Old-age pension isn’t much, but it helps us buy a little extra food. I usually buy a bag of cornmeal and a bag of rice, both 50 kilos. Plus, I like to buy beans in small quantities, as well as soapy water and other household items, says Byigiro.
– I would have liked to buy some charcoal with the money too, but it will probably be consumed before I get that far. Then I have to walk around the shops here to buy “chalk”. When I get the money back, I pay it. Our main income is from a five-room rental.
– A big problem now is that the prices of many commodities have risen sharply. For some items, prices doubled and tripled. The neighbors here have enough of their own problems, so we can not borrow from them. These are tough times.
Josephine Abaher (90) people live in the hospital district in Kampala. She is a widow and former small farmer.
Abahira lives in a house with his daughter-in-law (who is ill) and three grandchildren. The son (father of the children) died two months ago.
The main income is from renting rooms, but the retirement pension is a supplement to the dining budget.
For me, that’s a little money. I use it in one week — for food, she says.
Fortunately, my son built six rooms before he died. We are now renting these rooms. It is our main income. So the pension will be in addition to the income we get from renting the rooms. However, there is not much to live on.
When school fees have to be paid, I have to borrow money from friends and neighbors. It is also expensive to pay for school uniforms, food, and books. Thanks to God, things are going somehow.
Rabinah Nakigozi (100 years old) lives in rural Kayonga. She is a widow and is still active as a small farmer. She gets help around the house from her niece, and is responsible for five grandchildren.
Pension is very useful. I used to buy goats before but unfortunately the last one I bought was stolen. Next, we bought a pig to run and feed it, says Nakigozi.
– I also used the money to buy bricks because I wanted to build a room for rent, but unfortunately nothing came of it. Instead, I’m thinking of using it to expand and strengthen the house, so that the grandchildren have a better and safer place to live when I’m gone one day.
– Among other things I bought for a pension, there are various things for the house, for example bed linen. Then I bought a battery-powered radio and a mobile phone, and shipped it from some neighbors.
– Recently I was sick. Then I used my mobile phone to call a doctor who came here and gave me treatment. I paid 75,000 shillings (about NOK 200) for the treatment.
Siristra Take (92) lives in rural Kayunga. She is a widow and a small farmer and lives with her son and his family.
The 53-year-old son is also a farmer. The main income comes from the sale of corn, beans and other food plants. In addition, they sell milk.
We try to save this money for bigger things we want to buy. At first I saved up and bought a goat. Since then, there has been another – and finally a cow. We can thank the pension for all of this.
– The cow you bought recently has a calf. Yes, in fact there were two, but unfortunately one died – right there in the field. We can occasionally sell or exchange the milk we get from the cow for other commodities. It is a good income.
– I also gave money to my son when he was about to get married again. He received 300,000 shillings (about 800 NOK). The 92-year-old says the dowry was made from Social Security payments.
Old age pension in Uganda
- Seniors Scholarship is one of the few government sponsorship programs in Uganda. The scheme was established as a pilot project in 2011-2012, and then expanded to several regions in 2016.
- Today, the program is spread nationwide and covers nearly 300,000 seniors. (Plus, government employees have their own scheme.)
- Each Social Security recipient is entitled to an amount equivalent to 50,000 Ugandan shillings (about 130 NOK) every two months.
- To receive an old-age benefit, you must be 80 or older and be able to prove your age with a national ID card.
- The old-age pension is popular with many members of Parliament. There are proposals to lower the minimum age to 70 or 75 and increase the amount of Social Security, but there is also an ongoing debate about financial absorptive capacity.
- About 40 per cent of the elderly are over 60 in Uganda People living below the international poverty line.
- Research shows that the Seniors Scholarship, despite modest amounts, has a very good effect in reducing vulnerability and poverty. (See separate article: Uganda elders ask: What happens to our social security?)
- Great Britain and Ireland supported the plan at an initial stage, but foreign support ceased in June of this year. It is in line with the agreement previously concluded with the Ugandan state. Now it is entirely up to Uganda itself to bear the costs.
- In recent years Norway has shown a growing interest in supporting social welfare programmes, but at present the support is very modest. On the other hand, cash aid is an increasingly important tool in the humanitarian aid that Norway supports through the United Nations and NGOs.
Source: Development Pathways/Ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Development in Uganda.
The article was first published in Bistandsaktuelt.no.
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