In accordance with objective 7 of the National Objectives under the constitution of Uganda that stipulates protection for the elderly and following a UN global campaign, President Yoweri Museveni in 2011 launched a special fund known as the Social Assistance Grants for empowerment (SAGE) for the elderly.
The program would benefit persons over 80 years through a monthly stipend of Uganda Shillings 25,000/- which is the equivalent of US $ 5 a month. This would allow the elderly to age with dignity while continuing to participate in economic development.
However, the US $ 5 is too low considering the cost of living in Uganda. The fund also ends up being discriminatory as old age is considered to start at 60 years. Furthermore, very few people make it to 80 years.
According to the Chronic Poverty Advisory Board (2013), they found out that 49% of the elders had slipped into poverty. The elderly who constitute 2.7% of the entire population also constitute the poorest members of our society with 64% living below the poverty line.
This makes it clear that due to a number of reasons, the elderly have not benefited from this fund as much as the government of Uganda and the United Nations had hoped majorly due to the meagre amount of the stipend. It is assumed that most elders live in rural areas with a presumably lower standard of living but the limited economic opportunities, susceptibility to health issues and specialised needs that plague the elderly need to be carefully considered.
While I applaud the government for kicking off this initiative fine tuning of the bill is important to address the short falls. Basing on my on-going research about the lively hood of older persons in Uganda and in my capacity as an elder, I propose a comprehensive elders’ bill to include among other reforms the following;
-Lower the SAGE age from 80 to 60
Increment of the SAGE monthly stipend from Uganda shillings 25,000/-to Uganda shillings 300,000/-. A significant increment that would ensure that senior citizens are well supplied with their basic needs.
-Creation of a medical/health care insurance fund in which every deposit by an elder attracts a 50% addition by the government. This will cater for health emergencies as this is one of the biggest issues facing the elderly.
-For those elders that are unable to contribute, priority will be given under the existent health care system, elder homes and hospitals.
-Construction of free specialised homes and hospitals at district level to ease access to health care by reducing the inconvenience at general facilities.
-Provision of user sensitive technology to ensure personal control and security of the elders’ finances and property.
-There should also be perfection of the pension system to make it automated with a much shorter processing date.
This will ensure that the elders have more than enough to live off, and invest.
These reforms shall lessen the burden on the noble undertaking of government caring for the old, while expanding the scheme to ensure its effectiveness. To prevent pouring more water in what some people have already labelled a leaking basket, government must first fix the short falls within the existing fund.
-Government should recommit to raising the funds to meet our counterpart end of the agreement with the donors, monitor the fund better, ensure timely payments and move faster in extending coverage country wide.
With an increased life expectancy from 50-63 years over the past few years, Uganda’s elderly population is set to double by 2025. According to the Global Age Watch Index of 2015 however, Uganda is one of the worst countries for senior citizens to live. If family members continue to shoulder the responsibility for supporting senior citizens, it puts their own future financial security at risk causing a cycle of poverty to occur. With a comprehensive elders’ plan, the senior citizenry will be able to focus on making impactful contribution to our society giving all they have to give.
The writer is an aspiring National Member of Parliament for the Elderly and a retired senior Administrator as well as an Educationist.