The sharp rise in prices of goods in the market and economic contractions due to coronavirus pandemic has subjected the elderly and pensioners to untold sufferings
Although the past two years clouded by Covid-19 pandemic were tough for almost all categories of people, when the virus eased early this year and economic activities resumed, the elderly have not recovered from the impact.
The rise in prices of goods on the market in the first half of the year further amplified their vulnerabilities, as many can no longer afford basic needs like food, clothing, as inflation bites the country.
Majority of those on pension take home meagre benefits, with many getting as low as Rwf13000 per month, which if juxtaposed with the ever-rising prices on the market, can barely afford them anything.
Dorothea Uwimana, 69, used to work for the Ministry of Youth and Sports, but 14 years ago she went into pension right before salaries were increased at her work place, and life went downhill since then
She says the absence of a minimum wage has affected them, but the fact that the government is slow at adjusting pension benefits commensurate with the prevailing market prices has subjected them to untold suffering.
“Some pensioners get as little as Rwf13,000, what can that do looking at the prices on the market, in a week the money I get in pension is already depleted, it’s as if we are not living”
“There are people who fought for their families and supported them throughout their working days and were unable to invest, at a time when others were amassing property. These people are now suffering in their pensionable years, with no one to help them” she said.
Udahemuka Merald, 78, (not real name), lost two of his three children, he had been depending on the remaining son since he cannot work, but the son lost his job in a lay off last year, he doesn’t even get that pension that others get," she said.
“The times are harsh, sometimes I sleep hungry because I can’t afford food and other basic needs, I know other noble men who are even worse off, our dignity is being eroded by these tough economic conditions, it is sad,” he said.
Some of the less fortunate elderly also have dependants who they take care of, many of them are raising grand children born to young mothers who work as house maids in Kigali, some are a result of defilement and rape.
Once some of these vulnerable girls give birth they take these children to their parents in rural areas, which adds to the economic pressures these vulnerable elderly people go through.
Population of retirees
“Among the over 500,000 people that are above 65 years of age in the country, only about 40,000 earn a pension, but even those on pension earn too little to sustain them, many life in abject poverty and need extraordinary help” said Gasore Seraphin, the Deputy Secretary General of Cotraf-an umbrella body of workers trade unions in Rwanda.
He said the matters were made worse in the past two years by the tough economic times, which forced many people to go into retirement that stretched Rwanda Social Security Board’s (RSSB) pension resources, to the point that it cannot make any increments now.
“As employers looked for people to lay off during the tough coronavirus times, they always started from those near pension, hence the high number of those going into pension, RSSB tells us they can’t increase because they have a bigger number now” he said.
He noted that lack of minimum wage continues to plague workers, as many are subjected to exploitations.