The Sri Lankan Welfare State: Retrospect and Prospect

Research team

Laksiri Jayasuriya




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This paper represents a foray into the relatively neglected domain of social policy analysis by looking at the Sri Lankan welfare experience as the outcome of welfare state policies. As a preliminary exercise in social policy analysis, it adopts a distinctly historical perspective to the analysis of social policy in Sri Lanka. Thus, while not discounting social and cultural influences, social welfarism in Sri Lanka is seen as a legacy of its British colonial past when many of the social policies, programmes and initiatives associated with welfare originated in the pre-independence period. Except for a few theorists who have examined the complex relationships between welfare and growth in Sri Lanka, this ‘long history’ has not been properly understood and conceptualised. These historical influences are extremely important and need scrutiny by policy analysts as they provide an essential contextual background to understanding the logic and rationale of current policy strategies. To this end, this paper is organised around two major sections. One deals with the examination of the growth of welfarism, its rationale, policies and their overall assessment. The other, is more conjectural, employing a comparative social policy perspective. It outlines some of the theoretical perspectives currently available for the analysis and eventual restructuring of the welfare state.