What is Social Assistance Summaries?
Social Assistance Summaries uses data provided by provincial and territorial government officials to track the number of social assistance recipients across Canada. For each province and territory, it includes:
- A brief description of the social assistance program(s).
- Analysis of the total number of cases and beneficiaries of social assistance over time by program.
- Analysis of social assistance beneficiaries as a proportion of the under-65 population over time by program.
- Analysis of disaggregated social assistance data (since 2021) by program for:
o Cases and beneficiaries by household type: unattached singles, single parents, couples with children, and couples without children.
o Beneficiaries by gender or sex (depending on provincial or territorial nomenclature) with two categories: male and female.
This resource was established by the Caledon Institute of Social Policy to maintain data previously published by the federal government in the Social Assistance Statistical Report. In 2018, Maytree assumed responsibility for updating the series.
What is new in the 2022 report?
Twelve of 13 jurisdictions now provide their data as an average over the fiscal year (April to March). Three jurisdictions converted all, or part of, their data for the 2022 report: Alberta and the Yukon previously provided point-in-time data on March 31 of every given year, and Newfoundland and Labrador previously provided their data as an average over the calendar year (January to December). The only exception is Nunavut, which continues to provide their data as an average over the calendar year.
In addition, Social Assistance Summaries, 2022 now includes disaggregated data by household type and gender for Prince Edward Island and Nunavut. Both provided partial disaggregated data in the 2021 version of the report, the first Social Assistance Summaries report to include such data.
What is social assistance?
Social assistance is the income program of last resort. It is intended for those who have exhausted all other means of financial support. Every province and territory has its own social assistance program(s), and no two are the same. While the basic structure of social assistance is much the same across the country, each program has different administrative rules, eligibility criteria, benefit levels, and provisions concerning special types of assistance.
Who can claim social assistance?
Eligibility for social assistance is determined on the basis of a needs test. This test takes into account the household’s basic needs and its financial resources, which include both assets and income. The needs test assesses whether there is a shortfall between available financial resources and the legislated amounts for basic needs (i.e., food, shelter, clothing, household, and personal needs). Additional amounts may be paid on a discretionary basis for special needs based on each household’s circumstances.
Where does the data come from?
Every year provincial and territorial government officials provide Maytree with an update of the social assistance case and beneficiary numbers (some jurisdictions also publish this information online). They provide this data as a fiscal year average (April to March), except Nunavut, which provides this data as a calendar year average (January to December).
Data from before 2014 comes from two federal government reports: the Social Assistance Statistical Report: 2008 and the Social Assistance Statistical Report: 2009-13. When the federal data did not reconcile with provincial/territorial figures, the Caledon Institute of Social Policy worked with jurisdictional representatives to present data in the format most often used by their governments.
What is the difference between cases and beneficiaries?
Cases are equivalent to a household, whether an individual or family: the person who applied for benefits, their partner, and any dependent children count as a single case.
Beneficiaries or recipients refer to the total number of people who benefit from a single social assistance claim, i.e., the individual claimant plus their partner, and any dependent children within their household.
How does each jurisdiction vary in its reporting?
Each jurisdiction uses its own methodology for tracking and reporting social assistance caseloads. For example, some provinces include households that receive a partial benefit or top-up from social assistance while others do not; some include First Nations living on reserves while others do not. They also vary in the way they calculate the number of social assistance cases and beneficiaries: twelve of 13 jurisdictions provide their data as fiscal year average (April to March), and one (Nunavut) provides it as calendar year average (January to December).
Three jurisdictions have historically provided point-in-time data (March 31 of a given year), having more recently converted to fiscal year average: Alberta (1997 to 2000 for Alberta Support and 1997 to 2010 for AISH), Nova Scotia (prior to 2007), and Yukon (1997 to 2018).
Can I compare the data for different jurisdictions?
Comparisons between jurisdictions can be misleading because each jurisdiction has different eligibility criteria for social assistance and different methods for recording social assistance data. For example, the numbers will be lower for jurisdictions that count only households in receipt of full benefits.
The data is also affected by how federal programs interact with provincial/territorial benefits. For example, a higher take-up of related income security programs such as Employment Insurance typically reduces social assistance caseloads.
Why does the number of claims change from year to year?
There are two main reasons why the social assistance caseloads change from year to year. One reason is a change in the social and economic situation in an area. For example, a rise in unemployment is likely to result in a rise in social assistance claims. The other reason is a change in the way that social assistance programs operate. For example, people are ineligible for social assistance if their savings are above a certain threshold; if a jurisdiction increases this threshold, more people would be eligible and the number of claimants is likely to increase. Similarly, changes to eligibility for federal benefits can also have a knock-on effect on provincial/territorial caseloads.
Does the data include on-reserve First Nations claiming social assistance?
Not all jurisdictions include First Nations living on reserves in their social assistance data. For details, see the “Data notes” under the statistics section for each province or territory.