PWDs remain poor despite government’s special grant

Mary  Nabirye got the disability grant to start a charcoal business but failed because she used the money to pay school fees for her two children who were bound to miss Uneb. PHOTOS/TAUSI NAKATO

What you need to know:

  • In 2009, the government introduced a special grant to boost the livelihoods and income generating projects of Persons living with Disabilities (PWDs).
  • Many PWDs are still wallowing in poverty, despite receiving the grant money.

In 2021, Mary Nabirye, who is physically impaired received a disability grant of Shs1.1 million to start a business that was expected to grow and generate profits that would sustain her family. She started a charcoal business, buying sacks of charcoal and selling it off in small portions. However, the business collapsed.

“I did not put all the money in the business because my children were sitting at home due to lack of school fees. They were both Senior Four candidates. Besides school fees, I needed to pay the school to register them with Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB). So, I used the grant to solve this problem,” she says. 

After the collapse of her business, Nabirye is now a casual worker with a factory that makes matches in Jinja City. 
A few years ago, the government launched the Special Grant for Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) to promote welfare of PWDs through livelihoods and income generation for national development. In the 2019/2020 Financial Year, the government released Shs2.1 billion to the National Special Disability Grants Programme, which was being implemented in all districts of Uganda including Kampala Capital City Authority. 

In the 2020/2021 Financial Year, the budget was enhanced to Shs5 billion. Currently, the fund is now at Shs16.6 billion. The PWDs form groups of five, with each group receiving Shs5 million. However, the five can also decide to set up individual businesses, with each member receiving Shs1 million.

The challenges
In the Busoga sub-region, though, the performance of the National Special Disability Grants Programme is hard to measure, with PWDs still looked at as the poorest of the poor, according to a research study, Opportunity Disparities: a case of PWDs, carried out by Esperanza Initiative on Disability, in 2019. 
In Jinja district, the popular enterprises funded by the grant include poultry, piggery, tailoring, goat rearing and retail business. Sarah Tibafana, the Community Development Officer in-charge of elderly and disability, says so far, 236 PWDs have benefited from the grant. She however, decries the limited funding.

“The grant money varies from year to year. We received Shs60million this financial year, which means we cannot fund every group that applied for the grant. Because of the limited funds, creating economic impact is difficult. Also, the mindset of some PWDs has greatly affected the fund’s objective of eradicating poverty amongst them. They look at this money as a reward from the government so they spend it on other needs without implementing the projects they proposed to us,” she says.

Mr Christopher Bogerer a person with physical disability who sells sweets on Jinja Main Street said he has never received the grant

Tibifana adds that societal attitudes have ensured that those businesses that are successfully implemented do not survive. 
“You would be shocked to find that some people shun restaurants is managed by PWDs. They at PWDs with disgust and think they are dirty or very incompetent. Without customers, a restaurant cannot survive. Instead, the proprietor is pushed further into poverty,” she says.

PWD literacy levels still low
A high illiteracy level among the beneficiaries of the grant also makes it hard for them to sustain the enterprises. In 2019, statistics from the Uganda Bureau of Statistics revealed that just half (55%) of PWDs were literate compared to three quarters (75%) of those without disabilities. As of 2022, Uganda’s literacy rate stands at 80.59 percent.
Esther Kyozira, the Chief Executive Officer of the National Union for Persons with Disabilities Uganda (NUDIPU), says the lack of skills among PWDs is keeping them below the poverty line. 

“PWDs receive money as a group, but some want to work individually. Unfortunately, they do not have the required skills to sustain a business. This goes back to the level of identification and capacity building. The capacity building is supposed to be given by the Ministry of Gender because there is a whole department managing the special grant. That department is supposed to work with district community development officers to ensure beneficiaries know how to utilise the funds, where they can invest, and how to sustain the projects they have started,” she says.

The Special Grants Programme is hosted by the Department of Elderly and Disability in the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development. Tibifana says her district is now implementing some training programs.

“After closely monitoring a few selected business enterprises started by PWDs, we realised that some businesses die because the beneficiaries lack management skills. This year, we resolved to equip all members in the 12 selected groups with financial literacy skills before the funds are channeled to them,” Tibifana says. 

For some groups, though, this skills training is a little too late. Michael Ngobi, the treasurer of Spire Road Special Needs Group, says he would have benefited from the financial literacy skills much earlier. Currently, the group is not benefiting from the grant money because most of it is being used to pay overhead costs, including rent. 

“Our group is into tailoring. We have been operating out of a small room in a commercial building in Jinja City, paying Shs400,000 per month as rent. The rent is such an obstacle that we have not yet realised profits that we can share amongst ourselves to solve our personal needs. Now, we have shifted the shop to Danida, a slum area in the South Division of Jinja City. Until we get new customers in this area, the business is on the brink of collapse,” he says.
Kyozira urges district local governments to prioritise monitoring PWD projects. 

“Many of them are getting the money, but once they receive it, no one ever comes to train them on how to make use of the money. No one is supporting their projects because the level of monitoring those who have received the grant is not high. The monitoring committees need to know why some businesses are failing,” she says.
Phionah Namuliira, a research associate at Makerere University’s Economic Policy Research Centre, says according to the 2017 Uganda Functional Difficulties Survey, not all PWDs receive funding.

“Only 3.9 percent receive the special grant because it does not really cover the entire country. Besides, those who get the money lack the business skills to sustain those funded projects, even if they are provided with financial literacy. 

Therefore, business sustainability becomes a challenge. Education is crucial for someone to understand the market dynamics and entrepreneurship skills,” she says.

Political favouritism 
Christopher Bogere, who is living with physical impairment, sells sweets on Main Street in Jinja City. He says for the last few years, he has missed out on the grant because he is not politically active.

“Political leaders representing PWDs, such as councilors, only identify beneficiaries who they know will vote them back into office. I would like to expand my sweets business and also venture into commercial agriculture. When I heard that the money had been sent to the district headquarters, I tried to follow up on it, but I am not close of any of the councilors. That is how I have missed out,” he says. 
Ivan Gabula, the programmes director of Esperanza Initiative on Disability, concurs, saying the selection procedure depends on political connections. 

Mr Ronald Kazingirizi aphysically disabled person while in his Maize floor business in Kazimingi  in Jinja City. 

“Political leaders choose the beneficiary groups depending on their political leanings. Those who are nonpartisan, or who support Opposition political groups are missing out on the funds and this is sinking them further into the abyss of poverty,” he says. 
Tibafana refutes these arguments, saying, there is no political influence at the district headquarters.

“When the money is sent to the district, all interested groups write project proposals which they attach to application forms. We select the most enterprising proposals on merit and approve them for funding without undue influence from any political party. In the selection exercise, to encourage fairness, we do not even look at who has submitted a proposal,” she says.

Some successes
However, not all is gloom. Some PWDs, like Ronald Kazingirizi, a two-time beneficiary, have managed to use the grant money to pull themselves out of poverty.
“In 2017, when I first received a grant of Shs500,000, I started a maize grinding business, setting up a shop in Bugembe. I worked so hard and I was able to save some profits to further my studies. I enrolled for a Diploma in Social Work and Social Administration at YMCA, and later, a degree in Social Work and Social Administration at Kampala University. The next time, I received Shs1 million from the grant,” he says. 

However, Kazingirizi calls on the government to increase funding, saying Shs1 million is too little to make meaningful change in a business entity. 
“The government has helped us to set up income generating activities. This is an opportunity that no one was willing to accord us. However, the government should increase the funds and give each group at least Shs10 million so that individual beneficiaries take home Shs2 million,” he says.  

While the government’s effort in alleviating the suffering of PWDs is commendable, it is clear that lack of business and financial literacy skills is keeping many of them in the cycle of poverty. The National Special Disability Grants Programme has a provision where funds are provided to cover the cost of project specific trainings. 
The onus is on community development officers and those in-charge of the disability departments at the district local government level to provide these trainings.