Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of Africa

Social Welfare Policy in Ghana: Current Provisions, Reach, and Challenges

Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of Africa

Social Welfare Policy in Ghana: Current Provisions, Reach, and Challenges

Article excerpt


Both anecdotal and formal reports (Ghana Statistical Service, 1989, 2008) indicate that inequality in Ghana is gender and community based. There is a considerable disparity between man and women and between urban and rural communities. Women are generally poorer than men, due to cultural and historical restrictions on women's participation in education, which have led to their exclusion in the formal employment sector. There are also glaring differences in wealth creation between rural and turban areas, attributable to the centre-periphery model of development, which creates more opportunities in urban areas than in rural areas. It is also obvious that natural resource allocation across different regions of Ghana is unequal, with communities near the coast and in the southern rainforest belt better endowed than those away from the coast and the Savannah north. These inequalities are reflected in the composition of poverty in Ghana and affect families and children differently.

Social welfare policies are intended to address social inequality arising from social structures that marginalize sections of the population. Ghana has pursued a near universal welfare policy since independence in 1957. However, economic decline in the 1970s and 1980s led to a rethink about such provisions. The chapter will review Ghana's attempt to re-institute semi universal welfare provisions that were scraped as part of the implementation of structural adjustment policies of the World Bank and IMF designed to stabilize the nation's economy in 1980s. It will detail education, health and other social policies and discuss their relevance within the framework of distributive and recgonitive justice, the challenges of implementing such policies and ways to improve service delivery.


Historically the development of the welfare state began with the institution of pensions for formal sector workers and their families by the colonial government workers after World War I (Jones, Ahadzie & Doh, 2009). Like other countries, Ghana's welfare regime is underpinned by principles that issue from the notion of social justice and it will be fair to characterise the operating principles as relating to recognitive and distributive justice.

Over all, Ghana's approach to achieving both recognitive and distributive justice has been a combination of the characteristics of Universalists and Restrictive approaches to welfare provision. The Universalist approach began with the British colonial administration and covered areas such as water supply and health in the first half of the 20th Century. Education was still not universal although public schools, where they were available, were open to all children. Thus the bulk of social protection in the form of mutual support remained largely traditional until independence in 1957.

At independence, the Nkrumah Government instituted many universal welfare policies covering education, health, physical and social infrastructure such as roads, water, and public-places of convenience, among others. This predominantly Universalist welfare climate in Ghana, which endured for three decades, resulted in the provision of fully funded public health services, universal primary and free tertiary education. Under these arrangements, pre- tertiary education was free in northern Ghana in every respect while there was limited cost-bearing for parents in southern Ghana. Citizens also received free medical care for every medical condition. For this reason very few private medical facilities operating a fee-paying regime were in service in the country. This arrangement inculcated into Ghanaians the notion of government as burden bearer.

What is worth noting about such universal provisions is that they provided protection against structural inequalities, which ultimately create extreme disadvantage and marginalisation. The other aspect of these universal provisions was that service seekers were not means-tested, which meant that both rich and poor alike could access the same services. …

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