Internal migration and social pensions in Uganda: The Senior Citizens Grant and its effects on intrahousehold dynamics and wellbeing in 'multi-local households'

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis explores the relationship between social protection, migration, ageing and wellbeing in an East African context. Social pensions for older people, previously concentrated in Southern Africa, are now being introduced across the continent. Evidence suggests pensioners often 'pool' this income, with consequences for the wider household and existing informal social support systems. Internal migration is common across Africa and can itself be understood as an 'informal social protection' strategy for spatially distributed or 'multi-local households'. Research in South Africa and China suggests pensions encourage this by prompting working-age household members to migrate. However, evidence is lacking in East Africa and existing studies give inadequate attention to intrahousehold productive and reproductive consequences and how these affect the wellbeing of pensioners themselves. The roll-out of the Senior Citizens Grant (SCG) in Uganda provides an opportunity to explore these issues in an East African setting. This thesis seeks to address three key questions: What intrahousehold effects do social pensions have on households containing migrants in Uganda? How does receipt of the social pension mediate intrahousehold relationships of support within these households? What impact does this have on the wellbeing of pensioners? Households are found to be highly complex, occupying a 'spectrum of multi-locality' mediated by the gender, wealth, ethnicity and political connections of pensioners. Grandmothers anchor these households through the provision of care for migrants' children. In contrast to existing studies, this thesis shows that the SCG has only limited effects on migration decisions. However, it has important consequences for informal support systems, with migrants deferring support when pensions are paid, while its use for schooling costs represents a de facto transfer to migrants. Gender differences in pensioner-migrant relationships may obscure these impacts, with older women less willing to consider 'negative' interpretations of migrant behaviour than older men, despite their greater burden of care. The concept of relational wellbeing (White, 2016) is deployed to interrogate notions of 'dependence' and 'independence' within these relationships. This thesis argues that the notion of 'translocal inter-dependencies' better captures the interplay between formal and informal social protection and pensioner wellbeing in the context of multi-local households. It concludes that the SCG's small transfer size and lack of reliability currently constrains its effects on these critical support systems. However, should delivery improve, its indirect impacts - including on migration dynamics - are likely to change. This has important consequences for policy debates on the broader social impacts of non-contributory pensions as they are introduced and expanded across sub-Saharan Africa.
Date of Award31 Dec 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorSamuel Hickey (Supervisor) & Tanja Bastia (Supervisor)


  • Africa
  • Cash transfers
  • Wellbeing
  • Social protection
  • Social pensions
  • Migration
  • Ageing

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