Colonialism and the Rise of Social Assistance in the Global South

25 August 2020

Carina Schmitt presented a paper entitled "Colonialism and the Rise of Social Assistance in the Global South" at the General Conference of the European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR). She was a part of a panel on "Globalization, Economic Volatility, and Social Protection".


Since the beginning of the 21st century there has been a rapid rise in social protection initiatives in many low- and middle income countries that can be mainly attributed to growing numbers of tax funded social assistance programmes. The main objectives of social assistance have been to expand the limited scope of classical social security programs and to fight poverty and inequality. Recent studies have shown that social assistance is indeed more inclusive and more effective in the struggle against poverty and inequality than contributory social security. It is common sense in this literature that democratization has pushed the spread of social assistance. I argue that this is only part of the story. Whether a country introduces a social assistance scheme highly depends on the colonial legacy of this country. Surprisingly, the colonial heritage of social protection has been almost completely left out of the equation in comparative social policy research. This is astounding when considering the fact that most developing countries have a colonial history and more than half of all initial social protection programs in former colonies were introduced before those countries gained independence. By analysing the introduction of social assistance programmes in 100 low- and middle-income countries with binary time series analyses, I can show that the likelihood of introducing a social assistance scheme is highly dependent on the colonial heritage of a country. For example, the probability of former French colonies to introduce a social assistance programme is one tenth as high as of all other colonies. In contrast, more than 50 percent of all former British colonies have introduced social assistance schemes in the meantime which are highly in line with the British poor law tradition.