Social Policies in Small States

2310-2136 (online)
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The country case studies and thematic papers in this series examine social policy issues facing small states and the implications for economic development. They show how, despite their inherent vulnerability, some small states have been successful in improving their social indicators because of the complementary social and economic policies they have implemented.
Social Policies in Grenada

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Patsy Lewis
01 Nov 2010
9781848590748 (PDF)

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The country case studies and thematic papers in this series examine social policy issues facing small states and the implications for economic development. They show how, despite their inherent vulnerability, some small states have been successful in improving their social indicators because of the complementary social and economic policies they have implemented.


Grenada is a small state that has made impressive initial achievements in economic and human development since independence, especially in education and health. However, continuing unemployment and poverty, the recent erosion of trade preferences, and the changing international donor aid environment have exposed structural weaknesses in its economic model. Patsy Lewis assesses developments in social policy approaches and delivery in the postcolonial period, including the economic strategies pursued and their effects on social policy, particularly in respect of children. She looks at the challenges faced by governments and presents a brief case study of Hurricane Ivan, as an instance for exploring community and national responses, resilience and innovation.
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  • Foreword

    During the 1960s and 1970s, increased interest was shown by some international organisations, such as the United Nations and the Commonwealth Secretariat, in small states, notably small islands, and the development challenges they faced during the decolonisation period. The Commonwealth Secretariat, with over a third of its members classified as small economies, is committed to the study of small states. The issue of their vulnerability, for example, was first given formal expression within the Commonwealth at the 1977 Commonwealth Finance Ministers Meeting in Barbados. Having noted the special characteristics of small states – in particular their reliance on trade, high dependence on capital inflows and, in some cases, their lack of natural resources – ministers urged the international community to adopt a more flexible approach to their requirements, as well as special measures to assist them. In response, the Secretariat designed a programme to assist in overcoming ‘the disadvantages of small size, isolation and scarce resources which severely limit the capacity of such countries to achieve their development objectives or to pursue their national interests in a wider international context’.

  • Abbreviations

    This paper presents a case study of social policy delivery in the small Caribbean island state of Grenada in the post-independence period. It assesses the approach to social policy of different governments, particularly the economic strategies pursued and their effects on social policy, especially in relation to women and children. It argues that while Grenada has performed creditably in improving standards of living measured in key human indicators, particularly in respect of gender equality and relatively high per capita income, it has not made sustained inroads in addressing poverty and unemployment. Further, these gains have been due, in no small part, to a favourable international climate of trade concessions and international donor and country financing, as well as heavy borrowing for economic and social projects, rather than to steady economic growth. The environment which has facilitated this development model is undergoing significant transformation. This is particularly evident in the shift to a trading system based on reciprocity that does not accommodate special provisions for small states, and this may well undermine the economic and social gains already made.

  • Summary
  • Introduction

    Grenada is a member state of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME)1 and the sub-regional Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS). The OECS comprises the region’s microstates (Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis and St Vincent and the Grenadines), whose populations range from 4,681 in Montserrat to over 160,000 in St Lucia (2004) and whose geographical size is between 103km2 (Montserrat) and 750km2 (Dominica) (CARICOM, 2005). Grenada falls in the mid-range with an estimated population of just over 105,000 people and a geographical size of 345km2 (Table 1)...

  • Post-colonial Economic and Social Challenges

    Grenada’s first step toward independence came in 1951, when the first elections held under full adult suffrage gave the Grenada United Labour Party (GULP) a big majority. The Party’s leader, Eric Gairy, was an outsider from the light-skinned and white political and economic elite. His hold on power was severely curtailed, however, by the power still held by the Governor.3 The West Indies Federation, initiated in 1958, failed to deliver on its promise of self-government and full independence, and collapsed in 1962.With the break-up of the Federation, Gairy – always conscious of the limitations of his power – sought to consolidate it through the manipulation of state patronage. However, in 1962 an inquiry into corruption in government, later dubbed the ‘Squandermania Affair’, found that he had gone too far and suspended the constitution for three months. When new elections were called, Gairy’s party lost. He was not to regain power until five years later. In 1967, Grenada and some smaller territories which were considered not viable as independent units entered into a peculiar relationship of associated statehood with Britain that allowed them control over internal affairs, but left Britain in charge of security and foreign relations. Under Gairy, Grenada finally achieved full independence in 1974.

  • Social Policy Approaches

    There are various approaches to reducing marginalisation. They include promoting human capital formation, usually through access to education and health, and implementing measures to ensure that the conditions that lead to exclusion are not reproduced; redistributing income so that resources flow to the poor and vulnerable; and social protection measures to address immediate needs, as well as more structured programmes to provide people with tools to address their own social welfare. This section looks at strategies to support human capital formation and reproduction; measures to redistribute wealth in favour of the most vulnerable; and welfare initiatives, targeted both universally and at vulnerable social groups. It reviews progress in education and health delivery as the main indicators of human capital formation, redistribution in terms of access to land, improvements in labour conditions and fiscal policy.

  • Social Welfare Initiatives

    Social welfare initiatives cover a range of measures designed to offer social protection. They include social assistance on a short- or long-term basis to address the needs of specific groups and social insurance, the two most common forms offered in Grenada. Thomas (2001) locates the origins of social welfare across the Commonwealth Caribbean in the colonial response to the social upheavals that characterised the region in the 1930s, which gave birth to the trade union movement and laid the basis for constitutional change. In the specific context of Grenada, social policy was limited to poor relief, the provision of basic primary education, efforts directed at improving health conditions and nutrition, the provision of housing in response to natural disasters (specifically hurricane Janet in 1955) and housing programmes targeted at the civil service (Government of Grenada, 1957). There were continuities in the approach to social welfare, evident in the persistence of some programmes, although there were clear points of interruption, as well as intensification of welfare provisions. Early initiatives at addressing nutrition, such as the UN-supported school feeding35 and milk distribution programmes, remain a feature of post-colonial social welfare expanded and intensified under the PRG. That the programmes remain important aspects of government welfare provision to support the attendance of students at school, especially at pre-primary and primary level, suggests the intractable character of poverty in Grenada.

  • Strengthening the Legislative Framework for Social Protection

    The discussion so far suggests that the approach to social policy has for the most part been ad hoc and reactive, and that many gaps persist. Protection for poor and vulnerable groups remains weak. Given the limitations of social protection and welfare that have been identified, government faces the challenge of extending the range and coverage of benefits. The legislative and regulatory framework is important to the construction and delivery of social policy. International conventions spearheaded by the UN, which help to create and promote norms in respect of social policy, are important vehicles for advancing social policy at national level. Thomas (2001) notes that this has had the effect of shifting perceptions of social policy in the direction of rights grounded in a legal framework. In Grenada, regulation and legal protection are particularly important in respect of the treatment of women and children where, despite tremendous gains, gaps remain. The main conventions in respect of children’s and women’s rights to which Grenada is a party are the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which it signed and ratified in 1990, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which it signed in 1980 and ratified in 1990. There is a strong relationship between international conventions and regional obligations, which has had implications for the development and implementation of legislation in the national sphere. When government resources are limited, international conventions play an important role in providing impetus at national level for the commitment of scarce resources to putting in place the necessary framework for meeting obligations.

  • Hurricane Ivan: Challenges in Social Policy

    Natural disasters are important in exposing weaknesses in social policy in terms of coverage, identifying and targeting vulnerabilities, and the capacity of the family and wider community to cope. They also provide an opportunity for observing instances of resilience that can be built upon. Hurricane Ivan revealed weaknesses in disaster preparedness; exposed and intensified existing vulnerabilities, particularly among women, children and the elderly; highlighted weaknesses in the national economy; and sharpened political differences. On the other hand, it illuminated the importance of family and community as the first line of defence in responding to a national crisis and of regional and international agents in supporting resilience.

  • Summary and Conclusion

    Post-colonial governments in Grenada, despite challenges and different approaches, have performed reasonably well in improving the standards of living of their people. Grenada has made tremendous progress in addressing some of the main developmental problems deriving from the colonial experience, manifested in real improvements on all fronts: economic, social and in the quality of political representation available. This has occurred despite challenges presented by limited geographical space, the small size and openness of the economy, which amplifies the effects of external developments, particularly in relation to trade and the country’s narrow economic base.

  • Appendix: List of Interviewees
  • Bibliography
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