Social Policy and the British Imperial Legacy
Edited by James Midgley and David Piachaud
Chapter 12: Conclusion: Interpreting the Imperial Legacy for Social Welfare
James Midgley and David Piachaud A number of questions about colonialism and the imperial legacy were posed in the introduction to this book. One of the most relevant is whether an imperial legacy can be detected in the contemporary social policies and programmes of the nations of the former British Empire and if so, whether this legacy has implications for social policy today? Questions were also asked about the characteristics of colonial social policies and programmes and their sponsorship. What was their impact and how effectively did they address social problems and meet social needs? Although it is difficult, if not impossible, to give definitive answers to these questions, it is possible on the basis of previous literature and the chapters in this volume to reach some tentative conclusions. However, first the complexity of the colonial experience and the difficulties of reaching general conclusions must again be emphasized. EMPIRE OF DIVERSITY The bounds of the British Empire spread wider still and wider when its legacy is examined. Covering three centuries in time, five continents and at its peak covering one-quarter of the world’s population, it is hard to make all-encompassing generalizations. Colonization was very different at different times. The plantation economies established in the eighteenth century in the Caribbean using slaves and indentured labour to satisfy the British craving for sugar were quite different from the settler societies of Australia, Canada or New Zealand or the colonies grabbed in the scramble for Africa in the late nineteenth century. Colonies had...
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