Social protection is recognized all over the world as a critical element of national development strategies. It is recognized as key to reaching vulnerable, often excluded sections of the population, thereby achieving inclusive, pro-poor, equitable development.

In Uganda, Senior Citizens were the first target group through a Social Assistance Grants for Empowerment (SAGE) Scheme under the Expanding Social Protection Programme. This porgramme was first piloted in two ways of direct income support grants: the Senior Citizens Grants and the Vulnerable Family Grants. The Senior Citizens Grant targeted older persons of 65 years and above (but lowered in the case of more vulnerable Karamojong region to 60 years). This was aimed to enable them to access basic services, and to start income generating activities. The Programme was piloted in 15 districts. The Vulnerable Family Grant on the other hand was paid to poor and vulnerable households that lacked labour capacity.

However, in June 2015, the Ministry of Gender, Labour & Social Development made a decision to phase out the Vulnerable Family Grant based on the lessons learnt in the course of the pilot that showed that the Vulnerable Family Grant was contentious and not well accepted by the community, as was the case with the Senior Citizens Grants. The Vulnerable Family Grant was a household grant (as opposed to the senior Citizen Grant that is an individual grant) and therefore its administration was problematic and not well appreciated by the communities. In some districts, community leaders requested the Ministry to remove the grant and replace it with the Senior Citizen Grant.

Under this programme, sh25, 000 per month was given to a qualifying senior citizen and a total of 123,000 Senior Citizens (65years of age) benefited under this pilot phase in the districts Kyenjojo, Kiboga, Kaberamaido, Moroto, Nakapiripirit, Nebbi, Apac, Katakwi, Kole,Kyegegwa, Napak, Zombo, Kyenkwanzi, Yumbe and Amudat.

Following the successful implementation of the pilot, in August 2015, Government announced a phased national rollout of the Senior Citizens Grant, to an additional 40 districts over the next 5 years. With the 20 new districts last Financial Year 2015/16, subsequently 5 new districts will be added every year till Financial Year 2019/20. The 20 new districts to benefit from the grants are: Kaabong, Abim, Kotido, Koboko, Gulu, Pader, Agago, Lamwo, Amolatar, Pallisa, Amuria, Kween, Namayingo, Mayuge, Kamuli, Kayunga, Nakasongola, Kibaale, Kisoro and Bundibugyo.

In March, 2016, the Ministry of Gender, Labour & Social Development signed a contract with PostBank Uganda as the new Payment Service Provider (PSP) for the Senior Citizens Grants. PostBank Uganda took over the payment service provider role from MTN who had hitherto delivered the grants using MTN Mobile Money.

With the announcement of the roll out, background preparations were made to enable them make the payments to the beneficiaries.  They oriented and trained district political and technical leadership on SAGE implementation in the 20 new districts. They also set up and trained the District SAGE Support Teams in the 20 districts. Currently, they are in the process of establishing Regional centres that will support the districts-Technical Support Units (RTSUs) offices.”

Despite the overwhelming demand for the national roll out, the Government shall only implement this programme for senior citizens grants in 40 additional districts in five years. It should be remembered that the number of districts has been growing and as such implementing this programme in only 55 districts is not only unfair but also does not promoted equitable of development.

This blog post is published as part of the Ambassador Series, which presents insights into social protection around the world from the viewpoint of our Ambassadors, a group of international online United Nations Volunteers who support the online knowledge exchange activities, networking and promotion of



Social Protection Programmes: 
  • Social assistance
  • Uganda
  • Sub-Saharan Africa
The views presented here are the author's and not's



Thanks for this informative post about SAGE implementation in Uganda. It's impressive that all the cash transfers are made through mobile banking - in my country (India), direct benefit transfer is still in its infancy, and nearly all benefit transfers are in-kind which leads to massive administrative problems, leakages and corruption.

I am curious about the part where you mention that the Vulnerable Family Grant was "not well accepted by the community", to the extent that some community leaders advocated for its abolition. Would you know why it faced such resistance from the community? Was it because of lack of clarity/agreement over who within the family (father/mother/eldest member) should get the benefit on behalf of the household, or were there other reasons?

The Vulnerable Family Grant selects households based purely on the age, sex, disability and orphan hood status of its members. The rationale for this approach is as follows:

Cost effectiveness and value-for-money: According to Ministry of Gender Labour and Social Development (2012) 71% of older people and their families in Uganda are either extremely poor or vulnerable to extreme poverty and only a tiny proportion could be considered wealthy.
Likely targeting ineffectiveness: the evidence on the effectiveness of poverty targeting is clearly mixed globally. However given governance challenges and institutional capacity constraints present within Ugandan district local governments, poverty targeting should be expected to be particularly problematic. Indeed, experience implementing the Vulnerable Family Grant has confirmed that nationally there is no system to capture household making it hard for district local governments to collect household level data accurately which employ nominally participatory targeting methodologies do not actually reach the poor at all (Onapa et al, 2014)
Social cohesion and social capital: given the critical role that community support plays in the protection of the poor and vulnerable, as well as the presence of underlying civil and social conflict in many parts of Uganda, the SAGE programme has deliberately sought to develop targeting mechanisms which are less susceptible to being affected by underlying social conflicts or likely to exacerbate pre-existing conflicts. Experience from the pilot has borne out the benefits of this approach as the Senior Citizen Grant has become universally popular and accepted while the Vulnerable Family Grant, which employs a relatively complex and opaque vulnerability targeting system, has received widespread criticism from communities and political leaders alike and has been subject to extensive local level political manipulation –particularly in areas where social and political conflicts predate the SAGE programme. So great has the negative response been to targeting within the VFG that the Ministry of Gender Labour and Social Development (MGLSD)and its stakeholders were forced to limit its implementation to only 20% of the SAGE programme area.
In contrast, not only has the SCG been associated with greater self-esteem among its beneficiaries but, being  a universal scheme, is also perceived as a more genuine, fair and transparent expression of government’s constitutional obligations towards the poor and vulnerable (Bukuluki & Watson, 2012, 2014).
Political viability: the MGLSD and its stakeholders recognize that attracting the public investment required for national scale-up of a social protection programme in Uganda necessitates extensive political will. Analysis of Uganda’s political economy suggests that such political will and investment is unlikely to arise in support of a programme which focuses exclusively on the poor –particularly if in doing so the programme fuels social and political conflicts or becomes captured by local elites as in the case of other poverty reduction efforts.

Thank you for the detailed explanation, Winny. An opaque and easily manipulated system of selecting beneficiaries can sure alienate citizens.

Thank you for the explanation, Winny. I had the same curiosity as Amiya. Since Brazil has a conditional cash transfer based on household standards and children are in focus, is interesting to learn about different political contexts. 

Thanks for this Winny - a very interesting and thought provoking piece. 

If you or your colleagues would like to learn more about social protection, specifically social transfers, the Economic Policy Research Institute runs annual social protection courses in Cape Town, South Africa and Chiang Mai, Thailand.

The courses aim to build the capacity of government policymakers and officials, representatives from bilateral and multilateral agencies, programme practitioners, researchers, project managers and staff members from non-governmental organisations. The course will serve those who want to more effectively design, implement and manage social transfer programmes with the goal of reducing poverty and better achieving the Sustainable Developmental Goals. 

This year, our Cape Town course is taking place 7 - 18 August, and Chiang Mai 2 - 13 October.

Find out more here!