During the 1940s, the Colonial Office, in response to the recommendations of its Labour Advisor, Major Orde Browne, and the Royal West India Commission of 1939, advised that social conditions in the British Caribbean be ameliorated. Consequently, the colonial administration sought to improve health services, the system of education, social welfare and conditions of housing in British Guiana. This amelioration was made possible through funding under the Colonial Development and Welfare Acts of 1940 and 1945.
Improvement in the social services was urgently needed in British Guiana. Major Orde Browne, who visited British Guiana in 1938 to examine labour conditions in the British Caribbean, painted a grim picture of life in the colony three years before Governor Lethem’s arrival. He reported that houses were congested in Georgetown and described part-time employment as an “outstanding evil.” Social security benefits, which would have helped to remedy part-time unemployment, were non-existent. Further, there was neither a Social Welfare Department nor a Labour Exchange Bureau. Wages were low and rents were high, devouring most of the family budget. In spite of Orde Browne’s report, housing conditions continued to be deplorable according to a report sent by Governor Lethem to the Secretary of State in 1946.
With regard to health conditions, statistics reveal that the chief causes of death in the colony in 1939 were bronchitis and pneumonia, malaria and other fevers. Although Browne was not critical of the system of education, the Moyne Commission of 1939 was. It observed the lack of accommodation, planning and sanitation, inadequate equipment, outdated curricula, and poor health of school children due to “underfeeding.” Gover-nor Lethem set out to improve conditions and for this he was commended by Guianese who welcomed progress. Several factors contributed to the improvement in the social services. They included changes in Colonial Office policy, trade union demands, pressure from within the local legislature, the Moyne Commis-sion recommendations, and the availability of funding by the Colonial Development and Welfare Acts of 1940 and 1945.
Owing to studies undertaken by Lord Hailey and R.L. Buell in the 1920s and 1930s, a paternalistic policy was formulated in the Colonial Office which had been sensitized to the plight of the colonial people through the publications of these two researchers. Lord Hailey’s The Role of Anthropology in Colonial Development advised that the objectives of colonial administration be expanded to include the improvement of social life and standards of living. These publications charged the Colonial Office with the greater responsibility of developing social services. Other publications which had an even more immediate impact on the fashioning of Colonial Office policy towards the British Caribbean were the West Indian Royal Commission Report of 1939 and Mayor Orde Browne’s Report of 1938, both of which were critical of conditions there.
The disturbances of the 1930s in the British Carib-bean also influenced the Colonial Office and forced it to take action to maintain credibility in the eyes of the Labour Party and the Trades Union Congress. Conse-quently, in 1937, a Social Services Department was established in the Colonial Office and Orde Browne was appointed Labour Advisor in 1938. The report of his 1938 tour of the British Caribbean revealed the appalling state of social services there and the inadequacy of colonial governments’ finances to remedy the situation.
Another significant factor contributing to the upgrading of social services was the recommendations made by the West India Royal Commis-sion of 1939. The West India Royal Commission (Moyne Commission), which toured the British Caribbean to investigate the causes of the disturbances of the 1930s, made the following recommendation:
There is a pressing need for large expenditure on social services and development which not even the least poor of the West Indian Colonies can hope to undertake from their own resources. We therefore recommend the establishment for this purpose of a West Indian Welfare Fund to be financed by an annual grant of 1,000,000 pounds from the Imperial Exchequer for a period of 20 years, and of a special organization to administer this fund under the charge of a Comptroller.
In addition, the commission provided detailed recommendations for each of the social services, namely, public health, education, housing and slum clearance, labour, and social welfare. Although the Second World War had started when the report was submitted, the Imperial Government, in its statement of Policy on Colonial Deve-lopment and Welfare, still deemed it prudent to implement the recommendations of the commission in spite of the war. The Secretary of State was quoted as stating, “...our reputation and moral strength in the war would suffer serious damage from a few Colonial disturbances.” The Colonial Office was undoubtedly still overwhelmed by the scope and intensity of the disturbances of the 1930s.
Trade union agitation was another factor contributing to the desire to effect the improvement of the social services. The protests of the 1930s were organized by the trade union movement. In addition, individually and collectively, Caribbean trade unions had consistently demanded improvements in health care, housing, education and the introduction of social security. For example, at the 1926 and 1938 British Guiana and West Indian Labour Conferences, resolutions were passed recommending the introduction of non-contributory old age pensions and national health insurance. At the 1938 conference, resolutions were passed pertaining to health and education also. There were demands for technical schools, free books and milk for students. In addition, it was recommended that water sanitation, and sewerage systems be modernized, hospital management examined and health clinics established. Trade unions across the Caribbean testified before the Moyne Commission and made similar demands. For many years, the British Guiana Labour Union was consistent in making demands of the government and the Georgetown Town Council for “better housing accommodation for the poor people.”
Pressures exerted in and by the local legislature were also instrumental in bringing about an improvement in social services. For example, the Legislative Council repeatedly asked for the introduction of a national old age pension scheme. In 1942, C.V. Wight, Representative of the Western Essequibo District, and member of the Old Age Pensions Committee formed in 1939 which recommended the introduction of an old age pension scheme, reminded the Legislative Council of the issue and tabled a motion recommending that the Govern-ment allocate $200,000.00 in its estimate for 1943 for old age pension payments. In 1943, C.R. Jacob, representative of the North-Western District, raised the issue again and was informed that an old age pension scheme was being considered by a committee examining social welfare schemes. At the time, only teachers and some categories of civil servants received pensions.
Another significant factor was the funding for social services improvement which was made possible under the Colonial Development and Welfare Acts of 1940 and 1945.
The first act was passed on July 17, 1940. It provided for the annual expenditure of 5,000,000 pounds on various development schemes as suggested by the Moyne Com-mission. Also, 500,000 pounds were allotted for colonial research. Colonial governors were advised by the Secretary of State to implement urgent schemes, which would not adversely affect the war effort or require the use of foreign currency.
In 1945, the 1940 act was amended to allow the distribution of free grants up to March 31, 1956 and to expand the original capital allocated to 120,000,000 pounds. By December 1946, 545,039 pounds had been approved for expenditure on social services in the British Caribbean. Of this, British Guiana received 57,792 pounds, Jamaica 378,835 and Barbados 30,000 pounds.
In addition, each Caribbean colony received funding specifically for health care and education.
The Imperial Government stood to benefit from this funding. First of all, some of the funding took the shape of loans which would be refunded to Britain. Secondly, it was envisaged that funding would stimulate increased production of goods in the colonies which could be bought by Britain without foreign currency. Had funding not been available under the Colonial Development and Welfare Acts, the upgrading of the social services would have proceeded at a slower pace and many excellent projects would not have been executed.
The improvement in social services in British Guiana was achieved in two phases. The introductory phase began in 1940 with the passing of the Colonial Development and Welfare Act allowing colonial administrations to apply for funding for selected projects during a ten-year period. When Governor Lethem arrived in 1941, he immediately sought increases in the British Guiana allocations and authorized the use of local finance to begin projects until the Comptroller of Develop-ment and Welfare approved grants for schemes submitted. He was responsible for the implementation of these schemes subject to the guidance of the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Comptroller of Development and Welfare. He was also responsible for appointing committees to design a ten-year Development Plan required by these two officials. This comprehensive and impressive plan proposed developmental schemes for social services, agriculture and fisheries, communications, drainage and irrigation, geology and mines, forestry, town planning and urban housing for the period 1947 to 1956.
Lethem’s regime initiated many long-term projects, which were completed by succeeding governors. The second phase of the upgrading of social services occurred from 1947 to 1956. In the next instalment of this article an examination of these projects will be made.
The improvement in social services in British Guiana was achieved in two phases. The introductory phase began in 1940 with the passing of the Colonial Development and Welfare Act allowing colonial administrations to apply for funding for selected projects during a ten-year period. When Governor Lethem arrived in 1941, he immediately sought increases in the British Guiana allocations and authorized the use of local finance to begin projects until the Comptroller of Development and Welfare approved grants for schemes submitted. He was responsible for the implementation of these schemes subject to the guidance of the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Comptroller of Development and Welfare. He was also responsible for appointing committees to design a Ten-year Development Plan required by these two officials. This comprehensive and impressive Plan proposed developmental schemes for social services, agriculture and fisheries, forestry, town planning and urban housing for the period 1947 to 1956. It was comprehensive and impressive. Lethem's regime initiated many long-term projects, which were completed by succeeding governors. The second phase of upgrading social services occurred from 1947 to 1956.
Influenced by Lord Hailey's research publications, Lethem, in an address to the Legislative Council, observed that colonial policy had changed. In the past, governments were only responsible for "public order" and "administration of the law," but not for social services. He added that modern government was expected to provide for the social services and to raise "the general standard of living." This he set out to achieve. It would appear that he laid a solid foundation on which succeeding administrations could build. His administration was marked by three features: funding under the Colonial Development and Welfare Acts of 1940 and 1945, lack of materials, and training of personnel.
Funding under the Colonial Development and Welfare Act was a major facilitation of the effort to improve social services. It is noteworthy that Frank Stockdale, Comptroller for Development and Welfare, and his advisers, visited British Guiana in 1941 and in January 1945 to discuss with Lethem and the colonial government the development projects requiring funding in the colony. By December 31, 1946, the Social Welfare Department had spent 31,250 pounds of the 65,642 pounds, which had been granted for the development of social welfare projects in the colony. In order to assist public health, a malariologist, a Sister-Tutor and a Schools' Medical Officer were appointed with funding under the Acts. Funding was also provided for equipment for clinics and medical care for Amerindians in the interior, and the Mahaica Leper Settlement. The Anna Regina Land Settlement Scheme in Essequibo, the construction of schools and teachers' houses and the appointment of an Education Development Officer also received funding.
Between 1940 and December 31, 1946 British Guiana received funding for the following: 61,578 pounds for education, 34,056 pounds for housing and planning, 100,454 pounds for medical care, public health and sanitation, and 57,792 pounds for the social services. In addition, 2,000 pounds were received for research in public health and sanitation.
Subsidiary local funding was also provided. For example, the Development Trust Fund provided $6,000 for the Anna Regina Housing Project which was to be repaid from rentals. In 1944, the Legislative Council voted the sum of $1,000 to be used to assist Social Welfare Projects. The Sugar Producers Association and the colonial government equally shared with the Rockfeller Foundation (an external agency) the funding of the Malaria Research Unit.
An impediment to upgrading the social services was the lack of materials and the shortage of trained personnel. This constituted a problem particularly in the early stages and retarded the progress of the programme. Lethem cited the "impossibility of obtaining equipment, staff and transport during the wartime conditions" as the reason for the failure to centralize medical services in the colony. He stated that war conditions had led to a shortage of building materials which had affected urban and rural housing. The Moyne Commission had earlier made an almost similar observation:
"The war has, however, made it possible yet to carry out many major works, such as large housing or hospital rebuilding programmes; indeed, progress on the programme as a whole has been grievously hampered at every turn by the inability of the Government to spare from urgent war work the skilled men and to find the materials needed for large scale development programmes..."
The training of local personnel was another feature of the social services development programme. It is evident that Lethem thought it important to train Guianese health workers to improve medical care in the colony. Sanitary inspectors and nurses were trained locally and overseas. Laboratory and x-ray technicians received training also. A Schools' Medical Officer was sent to pursue post-graduate studies in public health and school medical work at the University of Toronto. Social Welfare Officers were sent to Jamaica for training. Some of the internal training was done by expatriate staff.
As a consequence of the attempt to improve and develop social services in the colony, there was an appreciable increase in medical facilities, and an improvement in education facilities. There was also the passing of legislation for the improvement of housing conditions, the establishment of a Social Welfare Department, and the introduction of a national pension scheme.
Improvement in the system of education was one very important consequence of the new policy. Various projects were implemented in response to the Moyne Commission recommendations and, by February 1945, ten additional teachers were graduating from the Teachers' Training College, increasing the total to forty. This graduation was a biennial exercise. Efforts were also made to provide better furniture for some schools and to make the curriculum 'simple and practical.' The school meal service, which had been in existence for years, was expanded to include Kitty, New Amsterdam, and Berbice River Schools. Writing to the Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1945, Lethem stated:
"The centre in Georgetown has also been expanded to double its size. The diet in all these centres has been improved and all are now in charge of a Supervising Dietitian (sic). Government expenditure on the school meal service amounted to $83.000 by 1945."
By February 1945, applications had been submitted to the Comptroller of Development and Welfare for funding to provide skimmed milk, free books, stationery, and new schools. On the other hand, by 1945, British Guiana had received funding for the reconstruction of the Bishop's High School (10,450 pounds), the maintenance of Carnegie Trade School for Women, the organisation of a Children's Library, and the provision of motion picture equipment. Similar grants were being allocated to other British colonies as other Governors sought to implement the Moyne Commission recommendations. However, requests for free grants to raise teachers' salaries at Queen's College were not granted because Sir Frank Stockdale, Comptroller of Colonial Development and Welfare, advised that the colonial government continue to finance increases in salaries.
The building of new schools in British Guiana stimulated a controversial debate over denominational control of schools and, in 1946, a committee decided that when church schools were constructed from public funds, they would become public property. As a result of the building project, 1,550 school places were created between 1940 and 1945, but these were inadequate because the school population rose by 6,000. Salary scales were also revised for teachers.
Another consequence of the policy of amelioration was the improvement in public health. By 1945, there was collaboration among the Medical Department, Social Welfare Officers, Agriculture and Local Government Departments to develop certain public health program-mes. Steps had been taken to recruit more sanitary inspectors, health visitors, district nurses and dispensers. Technicians, on the other hand, were trained locally and sent to District Hospitals. Attempts were made to improve sanitation in urban and rural areas. Rural health centres were constructed for maternity and child welfare work. A Schools' Medical Service, comprising a trained School Medical Officer and nurses, was established. Pamphlets, lectures, demonstrations and health tours were used to inform the public about health issues. A Nutrition Committee was appointed which undertook dietary and clinical surveys. It used the wireless/radio to educate the public about food and nutrition. A Sister-Tutor was appointed to train nurses. The overall result was that, as the volume of trained medical workers and public centres increased, the quality of medical care and education improved.
In another article the consequences of the government policy of improving social services during the Second World War will be examined.
(Part III - final instalment)
By Arlene Munro
The improvement of social services in British Guiana was achieved in two phases. The introductory phase began in 1940 with the passing of the Colonial Development and Welfare Act allowing colonial administrations to apply for funding for selected projects during a ten-year period. British Guiana submitted a Ten-Year development plan which proposed developmental schemes for the social services, agriculture and fisheries, forestry, town planning and urban housing for the period 1947 to 1956.
As a consequence of the attempt to improve and develop social services in the colony, there was an appreciable increase in education facilities, medical facilities and public health. As the volume of trained medical workers and public health centres increased, the quality of medical care and education improved.
However, the most significant public health issue addressed was that of malaria, the leading cause of death in the colony. The campaign to eradicate malaria was mounted in 1945 and concluded in 1950. Dr Giglioli, Medical Adviser to the Sugar Industry, conducted research from 1933 to 1940 which revealed that the Anopheles Darlingi mosquito was responsible for transmitting malaria. The discovery was significant and the method of eradication through the use of Dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (D.D.T) was effective. Dr Giglioli was head of the Malaria Research Unit from 1939 to 1940 and government Malariologist from 1943-1945. The Rockefeller Foundation, the Sugar Producers’ Association and the colonial government equally shared in the funding of the Malaria Research Unit.
Successful efforts were also made to combat yellow fever during this period. The campaign to eradicate yellow fever originated at the International Sanitary Conference held in Cape Town, Union South Africa in 1938 when the Rockefeller Foundation was requested to assist in the improvement of public health services in the colony. Consequently, the campaign was started in 1939 with the objective of destroying the Aedes aegypti in order to “protect the non-immune inhabitants of the thickly populated coastal area and its cities...” Another objective of the campaign was to prepare and train personnel to provide medical care in the West Indies in the event of a yellow fever epidemic. Through the use of DDT house spraying and other methods of control such as quarantine stations, yellow fever was eradicated by the end of 1946. The campaign cost approximately BWI. $505,937.85.
A tuberculosis hospital was constructed and a diagnostic clinic and tuberculosis service were organised. In addition, a hospital was built at the Mahaica Leper Settlement through a grant of 12,570 pounds received under the Colonial Development and Welfare Act of 1940.
Construction of more housing schemes for workers was another consequence of the policy of amelioration. The sugar and bauxite industries were both challenged by the colonial administration to improve the housing of workers as the Moyne Commission had advised. In the city, houses were congested and badly in need of repair. The overcrowding was aggravated by the migration to the city of families of workers in the bauxite industry and at the American bases to facilitate the collection of remittances. Additionally, during the war years, there was a scarcity of building materials and even simple renovations could not be undertaken.
The Moyne Commission had recommended certain improvements in urban and rural housing.
In response, Governor Lethem appointed a Rural Housing Committee in 1943, which outlined proposals for housing development on the Essequibo Islands and the Essequibo Coast and requested funding under the Colonial Development and Welfare Acts.
Consequently, a housing scheme was constructed at Anna Regina, Essequibo. The purpose of this experiment was “to try out the settlement and housing of tenant farmers on small individual holdings ... and to encourage them to go in extensively for stock-rearing and food production on a large scale.” If successful, it would be copied in other coastal districts. The estimated cost was $31,900, of which $20,280 was provided under the Colonial Development and Welfare Acts.
A Rural Housing Board appointed by Governor Lethem in August 1945 started another building project in which seventy-five houses were to be constructed, seventy-five repaired, and seventy-five extended in Leguan, Wakenaam and the Essequibo Coast. The owners of the houses were granted subsidies from the government “by way of credit for materials...” The proprietors proposing to build new houses costing $650 or less received a grant for one-third of the cost and a loan for one-half of it. Those owners planning to make additions to their homes costing $400 or less received a grant for one-third of the cost and a loan for one-half of it. Those who intended to repair their homes for only $200 received a grant for one-fourth of the cost and a loan for one-half of it.
Another project, a housing scheme in Wortmanville, was executed. Built for the working class, it sought to accommodate forty-eight families in four buildings, each containing twelve apartments. Its objective was to provide cheap housing for persons living in unhealthy housing conditions or persons with ‘large families’. The estimated cost was $98,000 and it was built from government funds. A committee of three persons appointed by the Governor was responsible for the scheme.
Two housing bills were also enacted in 1946. Ordinance No. 24 made “provision with respect to the housing of persons of the working class...” This Ordinance also legislated the creation of a Central Housing and Planning Authority for the “execution of planning and housing schemes both urban and rural.” Ordinance No. 25 provided for the “orderly and progressive development of land, cities, towns and other areas whether urban or rural.”
In the sugar and bauxite industries, Lethem and the Commissioner of Labour encouraged employers to improve the housing of workers in response to the Moyne Commission recommendations. In addition to these recommendations in 1944, the Comptroller for Welfare and Health for the Caribbean designed a housing charter for the Caribbean which stated that sugar producers should house ‘key and essential workers’ and the government should provide for other workers. Lethem had continuously made appeals to the Sugar Producers’ Association to allocate land for housing of the surplus population on the sugar estates “rather than for the sugar estate to remain landlords of housing areas.”
By 1945, the Sugar Producers’ Association had sent to the government plans for “the establishment of building areas for re-housing a part of the estate population.” It was intended that workers would build their own houses on the estate lands leased to them. The bauxite industry was also encouraged to provide better housing for its workers. New housing schemes were built, but when the Commissioner of Labour inspected one at Cockatura, he discovered many flaws.
Perhaps the most significant contribution made by the colonial administration to the improvement of social services was the creation of a Social Welfare Department. This was done in response to the Moyne Commission recommendations and those of the Social Welfare Adviser to the Comptroller for Development and Welfare. The colonial administration received a free grant of 15,200 pounds under the Colonial Development and Welfare Act of 1940 to establish, inter alia, the Social Welfare Department. In 1943, a Social Welfare Department was created within the Department of Local Government and the Commissioner of Local Government shouldered the new responsibility of Social Welfare Officer. The Commissioner of Local Government was given an assistant who administered the Social Welfare Division of his Department.
As a consequence of the work of the Social Welfare Department, youth groups, including the YMCA, the Boy Scout Association and the Girl Guides Movement, were further developed and received funding under the Colonial Development and Welfare Act of 1940.
Another consequence of the work of the Social Welfare Department was the improvement in Probation and Child Welfare services. A Chief Probation Officer was appointed in 1945 and a Juvenile Court was created in Georgetown. A Child Welfare Officer was sent to work in the Alms House, where she was responsible for children who received relief through the Poor Relief Fund.
Attention was also focused on extant Cooperative Societies and a Cooperative Organiser was appointed in 1945. By the end of 1946, thirty-six savings clubs and three marketing groups existed.
A significant social security development was the introduction of an old age pension scheme, for every citizen, in January 1945. The Old Age Pensions Bill enacted on 2 June 1944 provided pensions for all persons aged sixty-five and older who had been British subjects for ten years prior to the application for pension. Applicants must have been living in British Guiana for twenty years prior to the application and be in receipt of an income of $4.50 or less in Georgetown or $3.50 or less in the country districts. By 31 December 1946, 8,892 persons were receiving Old Age Pensions.
The attempt to rehabilitate social services resulted in general improvement in health facilities, housing and education facilities and the provision of social welfare by the colonial government for the first time. Other consequences were an increase in the number of trained medical workers, the provision of a national old age pension scheme, and the organization of probation and child welfare services.