Ana Pantelic, the UNICEF Uganda Social Policy Manager, has said Uganda needs more creativity and innovation in prioritizing the most vulnerable groups to provide social safety support at the time when the covid-19 pandemic has pushed millions of people into poverty.
Pantelic was part of the experts that on March 4, 2021, participated in the national budget dialogue on social security in the National Development Plan III. The dialogue was organized by Unicef, Economic Policy Research Centre.
She stressed that while it was “a government’s role to mobilize resources to fund social sectors” such as health, education, there was a need for other stakeholders to come together in different sectors and identify the most vulnerable members of the community”.
“What I would also like to emphasize is that there is also a need to focus on innovation. How do you we change programmes and find alternative modalities of delivery for expansion, tapping into existing systems and coming up with ways to ensure that those most vulnerable are not left behind,” she said.
She added that “the covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated that we have a new class of people falling into poverty. The gains we have seen over the last quarter a century are now going to start declining. An estimated 150million people globally will fall into poverty.”
In Uganda, an estimated 3million people will likely also fall back into poverty. The key question, Pantelic said, is how do we find long-term sustainable responses and how do we start addressing the more vulnerable groups such as people living in urban areas, informal workers, girls as people who have in the past been excluded globally from social protection interventions.
EPRC Research Analyst Regean Mugume showed that all these sectors will see their budget allocations drop in the 2021/22 budget. This has implications on how far social services can reach at a time when survival is at stake.
Privately, service providers are finding it almost impossible to continue working after covid-19 impact – with tens of schools facing closure or sale.
Dr. Ibrahim Kasirye, the director of research at EPRC, said options to fund social sectors included an increment in taxes but this is not tenable in the current environment. Others include borrowing but many countries and Uganda in particular, have their hands tied as public debt levels are pushing beyond manageable levels. This leaves the donor’s options as the most viable. However, many donor countries have also been hit by the pandemic.
Dr. Kasirye noted that “social protection can be perceived and given in different ways but never portrayed as such as most are locked in money or cash transfers. Things like giving sanitary pads to young girls who cannot afford, sharing food with communities for those who have are social security.”
Stephen Kasaija, in charge of social-safety extension in the Ministry of Gender and Social Development, said the ministry has a shortfall of up Shs 84bn this year to cover the old persons of 80yrs and above – the only way out is asking for a supplementary budget.