A group of 35 people over the age of 65 years from different parts of Uganda have petitioned the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) over discrimination in the Social Assistance Grants for Empowerment (SAGE) Program, which provides support to older persons.
The group, represented by the Initiative for Social and Economic Rights (ISER), a non-profit organization that advances economic and social rights, says the SAGE program is marred by discrimination in many ways.
Speaking at the offices of the EOC,a body that addresses discrimination and inequality, where they had gone to lodge their complaints, the older persons sought explanation of their exclusion from the program.
“We want to understand why we are not on the program. Just like elderly people elsewhere, we are sickly, we can no longer afford to work, and we have grandchildren to send to school among other issues. This money would be very useful to us especially in these times when the others are being enrolled on the program” said Josephine Nambozo one of the older persons from Kayunga districts.
The older persons also raise concerns on the criteria of selection of the districts to benefit from the program. Ms Cleophas Namatovu, 68 years from Kakuza village Kalisizo county formerly in Rakai district now in Kyotera district says some of the districts on the program are socially and economically better than those that are not yet enrolled.
“Why go for districts like Mbale and exclude Rakai for example, which has a high number of older persons who lost their children to the HIV/AIDs scourge and have been left with many grand children to maintain? We see and hear people in the news thanking government for the program in other areas. Many have even started projects. We also want those benefits to come to our areas,” she said.
According to Ms. Salima Namusobya the Executive Director ISER, the concerns of the older persons are legitimate and governmen owes them an explanation.
“The manner in which SAGE has been rolled out and the criteria for selection of districts benefitting from the program does not speak to the Uganda’s Social Protection Policy in relation to issues of equity and fairness across all geographical regions of Uganda and has fueled discrimination among older persons.,”said Namusobya.
The SAGE Program cash transfer scheme is a component of Uganda‘s Expanding Social Protection Program (ESPP) under the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development (MoGLSD). The stated aim of SAGE is to help tackle chronic poverty in Uganda and address the impact of poverty on social cohesion and the ability of chronically poor people to access healthcare, education and other key services.
Currently, persons above the age of 65 years in the districts where the program is running receive a monthly income of shs25,000. In Karamoja, eligibility is 60 years.
According to the 2014 Uganda Population and Housing census, the population of elderly persons over 65 years stood at 918,000. In a recent interview, the Minister of Gender Labour and Social Development Hon Janat Mukwaya put the current number of SAGE beneficiaries at 180,644 persons.