25 Million Ghanaians Are on Social Welfare – the State of Social Welfare Programmes in Ghana

In response to the poverty crisis and to prevent Ghanaians from falling below the civilized standard of living, the government of Ghana has introduced over 100 social welfare programmes over the years. This number, per a research I conducted recently, is far higher than the number of social welfare interventions in the U.S, U.K and many other industrialised countries.

The research also indicated that contrary to conventional wisdom, it is not only recipients of the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP) and other traditional welfare provisions who are on social welfare, but rather, “nearly all the 25 million Ghanaians are on social welfare of various forms”.

The provision by our parliament to provide housing schemes for past presidents and other high-ranking workers buttress this claim that indeed social welfare is not for only the poor and the vulnerable individuals in Ghana but the rich and the more privileged as well.

Using mainly secondary data analyses, the study identified at least 26 interventions instituted to address the educational needs of Ghanaians, 18 for health care need, 10 for transportation, 10 for leisure,16 for employment and productivity and 9 for child care and protection.

Illustratively, the research specifically cited the free school feeding program, free basic education, subsidised higher education, study leave, scholarships and in-service training as some of the social interventions for education. For health care needs, the study named the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), family planning services, paid sick leave, HIV/AIDS prevention programs and free immunisations.

The mass cocoa spraying programme, fertilizer subsidy, National Apprenticeship Program (NAP), Skills Development Fund and the Integrated Community Centers for Employable Skills (ICCES) are a few of the numerous social interventions established to address employment and productivity concerns of Ghanaians. Defining social welfare as “all formal and informal arrangements, initiatives and services that enhance the well-being of individuals and their communities to enable them meet their needs, manage problems they face and maximize their opportunities,” the study posits that it is very difficult for any Ghanaian to hold himself/herself out of the utilization of social welfare provisions due to its multifaced nature.

After all, teachers, doctors, and many other professionals who provide critical services in our society are all trained with public welfare funds. The police and the military who ensure our protection are all trained and paid by public welfare funds. So are the construction of the toll-free roads and bridges we use every day.

Most of these social interventions available in Ghana, such as the paid maternity leave and access to public or government bungalows are nonexistent in the U.S with all their wealth. This also suggests that Ghana is not doing too bad after all, in terms of the number of social interventions. What remains to be empirically tested is the efficacy and the effectiveness of the numerous interventions in Ghana. That is, whether the interventions are functioning at full capacity.

This was beyond the scope of the study being referred to in this article. For, it appears a little puzzling that a small country of 25 million people, enjoying over 100 social welfare interventions is still bedeviled with so much poverty and misery. Something must be wrong somewhere and needs to be researched. For instance, how much does it cost the average Ghanaian worker to apply for a tax relief through middlemen commonly called “connection men”? And how does this cost affect the effectiveness of the tax relief program as a social intervention programme aimed at addressing the basic family support need?

It is thus clear that but for the bottlenecks and inefficiencies, no Ghanaian should ever go hungry. We have so much resources and safety nets which are wide enough to absorb the niggardliness of the system. That is, the current New Patriotic Party (NPP) administration may not need any additional social intervention now but an overhaul of the over 100 existing social welfare interventions. The good news is that many of the major available interventions such as the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) were even introduced by the NPP government.

The study also be noted that once Ghanaians are enjoying such generous welfare programs and do not acknowledge them and/or have not had their lives significantly impacted, it is less likely to motivate them to offer befitting work attitude.

The study further claims that even though nearly all Ghanaians are on social welfare, the few poor and vulnerable individuals who receive LEAP are envied and/or disrespected. A situation, which per the study can be blamed on “lack of proper understanding and weak conceptualization on what social welfare programs really are, their functions and the people they benefit.” It was found out that in all, only 6% of social interventions in Ghana exclusively benefit the poor. The study report sees this situation as “a complete paradox”.

For the poor have higher health, psychological and physical needs and so deserve more support services. The exact opposite is what is happening in Ghana now. If managers, directors and chief executives have free access to government bungalows, and vehicles while orphaned children are housed in orphanages and children homes and the aged, mostly poor women are labelled as witches and are camped in witch camps, then it is difficult to contest the claim in this study that indeed, every Ghanaian is on social welfare.

Not only is the proportion of social welfare interventions that benefit the poor limited and attract high stigma, they also receive budget cuts more frequently in times of economic downturns. The study advocates that the stigma attached to the receipt and utilization of social welfare interventions by the poor and vulnerable is needless and needs to cease. After all, nearly every Ghanaian utilizes welfare too. If indeed all animals eat palm, it is just unfair to single out the rat in public.

In addition, the present study found out that social welfare programs have social, economic and political functions. These together, benefit not only the recipients but everyone in the society. For instance, the rich are taxed to fund welfare interventions for the poor. This redistributes income and ensures justice and fairness for all.

The antagonistic relationship between the poor at the bottom of the economic ladder and the rich at the top is thus harmonized, making way for peace and tranquility. This is a very vital condition for doing business and better governance. It also mutes political agitations and influences voting patterns of the electorates.

Besides, by enhancing peoples’ access to some necessities in life such as food, shelter, clothing, healthcare and education, welfare provisions ensure the steady supply of cheap, healthy, well-educated and properly-socialized labor to businesses free of charge. This no doubt reduces the cost of production and boost profits.

The study also noted that despite these noble functions of social welfare programs, they can be used to dominate, control and/or punish a section of the population.

It was also observed in the study that the provision of social welfare programs has not gone uncontested. Though not much visible in Ghana, there has been a very heated ideological debate on social welfare between liberals and neoliberals. The neoliberals have argued strongly against social welfare programs because they claim that the interventions perpetuate laziness and recklessness. Three examples will suffice for Ghana’s case.

  • If a worker is assured of a lifelong access to government care or housing scheme, the motivation to save is significantly reduced.
  • If a nephew at Yabraso village is aware that he would inherit an uncle’s wealth in the future, he is less likely to work hard
  • As the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) and the Capitation Grant to schools reduce the stress and cost of childrearing, they are more likely to encourage out of wedlock child bearing by unmarried persons.

Liberals and the social democrats have however debunked this neoliberal argument, saying that a scrap of welfare services will disproportionally affect the vulnerable groups in our society such as children, the aged and women.

In conclusion, the study reiterates that it is not its intension to insinuate that Ghanaians are miserable for being on social welfare but rather to straighten up the records in order to address the psychological barrier associated with the utilization of social welfare in Ghana.

Augustine Djan is Ph.D student in Social Work at The City University of New York in the United States. You can contact him via email at adja (at) gradcenter.cuny.edu and via WhatsApp: 001 718 450 6845