A visit by Ugandan MPs to London has thrown light on the political economy of social protection, including the circumstances in which a donor-supported programme gains national ownership, writes Alexandra Barrantes.
The delegation of Ugandan MPs representing the Uganda Parliamentary Forum on Social Protection participated in a visit organised by HelpAge International and Age International to the UK last week. The delegation met with several Government representatives from Parliament and DIFD to present the case of the Senior Citizen’s Grant (SCG) Programme in Uganda, a social pension being implemented with support from DFID and Irish Aid.
In line with regional trends around social pensions being adopted at the national level, the SCG is a successful example of a social pension which has growing national ownership. This was made clear through the MPs’ arguments at a public event Development Pathways organised with HelpAge International and AgeUK on Making the Case for Social Protection in Uganda: In Conversation with Ugandan MPs.
According to Hon. Alex Ndeezi Chairperson of Sessional Committee on Gender, Labour and Social Development and MP for Persons with Disabilities as he opened the meeting, the SCG in Uganda is not charity, but an investment in the economy. He also stressed the linkages with economic and social rights. This issue was often repeated by the panellists, both MPs and representatives from Development Pathways and HelpAge International.
As a report – published by the Ministry of Gender, Labour & Social Development and the Expanding Social Protection programme, and authored by Development Pathways – shows, social protection programmes such as the SCG have positive impacts in the economy and are sound investments. Studies have suggested that social pensions such as the SCG have spurred local economies, created income generation activities that provide local jobs, helped with inter-generational sharing of transfers, and had positive results in addressing income poverty and nutritional needs.
But beyond the monetary multipliers, Hon. Flavia Kabahenda Rwabuhoro stressed that the SCG has also proven useful in enhancing the autonomy and dignity of older persons. SCG beneficiaries regain a sense of belonging into society and of being able to provide for their families, something that is very much valued in Ugandan (and any) society. She shared the story of a lady who did not care if the Government invested in roads or electricity, all she cared about was that she was able to use the money to get a dress, so she could go to church for the first time in three years. Or the beneficiaries that pay for their grandchildren’s school fees, and contribute towards household wellbeing.
Other key takeaways are the fact that in social protection, politics matter. Which is a good reminder of the fact that social protection is not just a technocratic affair made up of statistics and paradigms you might adhere to, but that there is also a lot of politics involved. The MPs recalled the political economy at play behind the SCG: voters without the SCG see the widespread benefits in neighbouring districts and demand it be introduced for them too. As Hon. Flavia Kabahenda Rwabuhoro said, those MPs that do not secure the SCG in their districts have lost their places in Parliament. Hence the political push to roll-out the SCG as an inclusive programme.
It also points to the case to be made around the big role Parliaments have in fostering national support and ownership of social protection programmes. Hon. Jacob Richards Opolot, Chairperson of the Uganda Parliamentary Forum on Social Protection, shared how Parliament pushed the Ministry of Finance to further commit financial support to the SCG. And this, it seems, is a key challenge the Parliamentarians part of the Ugandan Parliamentary Forum on Social Protection face: the push to make sure that the Government of Uganda commits the necessary funding so that international partners do not pull out of good investments such as Uganda’s social pension.
As Hon. Alex Ndeezi stated in the meeting: countries cannot expect other to support their entitlement social pensions, governments need to step-up to the challenge and commit the fiscal space for these social investments.