Social Policy and the British Imperial Legacy
Edited by James Midgley and David Piachaud
Chapter 3: The Colonial Legacy and Social Policy in the British Caribbean
3. The colonial legacy and social policy in the British Caribbean John Harrison The encounter between Europe and the New World spans a half millennium. From this encounter the Caribbean emerged a creation par excellence of mercantilist driven colonialism. For 300 years, it was the birthplace, cock-pit and graveyard of imperial ambitions, as first Spain, then Britain, France, The Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, and ultimately the United States, vied for treasure, territory and political and economic dominance. The struggles between European nations for colonial possessions and the forms of economic and social organization they fashioned echo still in the fortunes of Caribbean societies. Discussion of a colonial welfare legacy in the Anglophone Caribbean must be seen in the context of Britain’s 400-year dominance. An age of negligible social security, the welfare, initially, of aborigines, indentured servants, slaves or even freedmen were not, until the twentieth century, of primary humanitarian concern. ‘Welfare’, so far as it existed, was regarded as a private obligation of planters and merchants, nominally comprising subsistence and rudimentary health care to sustain the productivity of predominantly forced labour, and basic education for workers performing more specialized tasks. Well into the twentieth century, social welfare was marginal to colonial administration, left to the vagaries of the Poor Law, religious charity and private philanthropy. Only in the wake of disorder in the 1930s, and the subsequent West Indies Royal Commission (the Moyne Report) on economic and social conditions in the region, did social policy as a strategy for addressing economic...
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