Department For International Development
Through an analysis of literature and key informant interviews, this study shows that social welfare in Sri Lanka is rooted in its colonial past and came to represent the post-independence state in 1948. Its values of justice and equity informed the independence struggle, following which came the universal provision of health and education and special assistance for the poorest and most vulnerable sectors. From the 1950s, however, the original values of social justice were reinterpreted in a new language of Sinhala nationalism, ignoring the multi-ethnic character of the Sri Lankan state. By the late 1970s neoliberalism influenced new legitimacy claims in the language of development, and state policies drew on symbols of Sri Lankas ancient irrigation-based civilisation to make new claims to make the country prosperous again. Veiling cutbacks in welfare spending in new promises enabled the government to pre-empt mass dissent and carry forward a programme of market reform. External aid for mega development projects enabled patronage networks to mediate access to state resources, creating new forms of marginalisation and exclusion.
This research is part of the Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium (SLRC) programme
Godamunne, N. (2019) How did social welfare provision (de-)legitimise the post-colonial state in Sri Lanka? Working paper. London: Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium.