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Chronic Poverty Research Centre

Does chronic poverty matter in Uganda?

Policy Brief No.1/2006

Charles Lwanga-Ntale

Chronic Poverty Research Centre

May 2006

SARPN acknowledges Development Research and Training (DRT) as a source of this document.
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There is a growing realisation in Uganda that inequality has been rising amongst the population, both during and after the periods of poverty reducing growth of the 1990s, and that a significant proportion of the national population has not benefited from opportunities to ‘escape’ from poverty during this period. Many of these are people in chronic poverty.

Chronic poverty in Uganda: key issues
  • We estimate that of 20% of the country’s households - more than 7 million Ugandans or 26% of the total population - live in chronic poverty.
  • Chronically poor people are sometimes dependents, but often working poor. According to the poor themselves, they include people with a disability, widows, and the elderly with no social support. Other vulnerable groups comprise orphans, street children; those affected by HIV (especially where the breadwinner is ill or has died) and the long-term sick; internally displaced people (especially those in camps); and isolated communities. Reliance on own account agriculture or on casual jobs is a cross-cutting characteristic, as well as the likelihood of chronically poor households being female-headed.
  • Being chronically poor stems from a web of inter-related factors, amongst which lack of assets, lack of education, chronic illness, belonging to a large and expanding household and remoteness appear prominently. Exclusion or self-exclusion from decision-making and development also features.
  • Poor women are particularly vulnerable to chronic poverty; in addition to gender inequities, additional factors, which then ‘double’ their plight, include: unemployment for elderly persons, being discriminated and neglected as a widow, being landless and having to care for numerous dependent children, especially orphans.
  • Different shocks, including insecurity and HIV, and more long-term processes, such as land fragmentation, trap people and their descendants into chronic poverty.
  • The web of factors causing chronic poverty makes for a limited range of coping strategies (casual labour, scavenging, begging, selling/borrowing assets, migration)
  • Non-agricultural income is an important “interruptor” of chronic poverty, for which education is essential. The poor often mention “hard work” but the chronically poor can rarely accumulate assets through selling their labour.
An important challenge which faces policy makers and implementers in Uganda today (both within government and civil society), is that of reflecting the interests of the very poorest in national priorities. The PEAP has just been revised and many of its provisions provide us with an opportunity to do so, although more can still be done.

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