Social protection as a development policy in Uganda is growing, though slowly. Eighty per cent of citizens are still not covered for social security and protection, a situation Ssanyu Rebecca Ntongo, an Australia Leadership Award Fellowship alum, is determined to change.
“Despite a National Social Protection Policy being approved in 2015 and the Expanding Social Protection Program Management Unit being established in 2010, too many segments of our population do not receive a pension, including informal sector workers and other vulnerable members, such as those with disability,” says Ssanyu.
In Uganda today, only civil servants are guaranteed a pension after retirement. Only five per cent of the working-age population contributes to social insurance programs, the main one being the National Social Security Fund.
While the government’s flagship social assistance grant is an important initiative, it is only for those who are 80 years and above and only in selected districts. It does not cover those above 60 years of age or other groups that need it such as those with disability and children.
With Ssanyu’s unwavering dedication, the overall social protection situation is changing, and for the better. The Ugandan Government is now improving its flagship social assistance grant and has expanded it to new demographic groups. The government has also created a unique desk for ageing and disability under its Social Protection Directorate, for which Ssanyu is the advisor.
“The National Social Security Fund now guarantees a regular and predictable income to older people and is having a significant impact on their lives, at both individual and household levels,” says Ssanyu. “The elderly receiving grants are using the money to pay for labour and to help their families, including, for example, giving their grandchildren access to better education and healthcare.”
In her previous job as Social Policy and Human Development Specialist at Development Research and Training, Ssanyu contributed to the development of the National Social Protection Policy, ensuring the aged, those with disability and males and females were represented. She also coordinated the Ugandan Social Protection Platform between 2012 and 2019, advocating for the social assistance grant to be expanded to all older citizens. “I carried out lobbying and advocacy activities around developing a social protection policy which help motivate government to match their funding obligations with development partners,” says Ssanyu.
Ssanyu also lobbied members of parliament to debate on increasing financing for social protection and approving social protection budgets. She also enlisted the support of the disability fraternity, including the National Union of Women with Disabilities, National Union of People with Disabilities, and Action on Disability and Development in Uganda’s important social protection discourse.
In January 2020, Ssanyu was appointed as Ageing and Disability Advisor at the Development Alternatives Incorporated program and continues to influence Uganda’s social protection position. She works with civil servants to provide technical and advisory support to the Expanding Social Protection Program. She believes in social accountability on a national level and programs that take care of vulnerable people. As such, Ssanyu continues to push for processes that provide social responsibility to the program at local government level, in close collaboration with Community Development Officers and Parish Chiefs.
Setting up the Social Protection Program Management Unit, fully responsible for designing and developing the social protection sector, was the first step in narrowing the gap between civil servant pensions and the lack thereof among the informal sector workers. The inclusions of social protection within the National Development Plan for the next five years (2021 to 2025) is another opportunity Ssanyu is eager to implement. “A vibrant civil society that promotes expanding social protection will support Uganda’s journey towards a comprehensive social protection system that is fair for all.”
Ssanyu attributes her passion and success to the knowledge and skills she developed while studying gender-inclusive development at Flinders University in 2012. “The training and my focus on women with disabilities has made a major contribution to my work in coordinating the Uganda Social Protection Platform,” says Ssanyu.
The networks Ssanyu established while in Australia have held her in good stead. So too do the valuable Australian connections she maintains, including with two of her professors, Cara Ellickson and Anuradha Mundkur-Raghupathi.
Photo Credit: Ssanyu Rebecca Ntongo