The Social Assistance Summaries series tracks the number of recipients of social assistance (welfare payments) in each province and territory.
For the total incomes available to those relying on social assistance, visit the Welfare in Canada report.
Social assistance is the income program of last resort. It is intended for households 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.
In Nova Scotia, social assistance is called Employment Support and Income Assistance (ESIA), which replaced the Family Benefits Program and Municipal Social Assistance in 2001.
ESIA provides income and employment supports to Nova Scotians in financial need. Within the ESIA program, Income Assistance provides basic needs assistance in the form of an allowance called a Standard Household Rate (SHR). The amount provided is based on household size and living situation, and is for basic needs such as food, clothing, shelter, fuel, utilities, and personal items. All recipients receive the maximum SHR for which they are eligible.
Income Assistance also provides for special needs, such as pharmacare, child care, special diet, and transportation. Employment Support Services supports clients with information, opportunities, and services to build the skills and experience they need to work and become more self-sufficient.
How many people claim social assistance?
In 2021-22, there were, on average, almost 28,000 cases (families and single adults) and almost 42,800 beneficiaries (individual claimants, their partners, and dependent children) receiving Nova Scotia’s Employment Support and Income Assistance program.
From the previous year, both cases and beneficiaries saw notable increases of about 15 and 16.5 per cent respectively. Previously, these numbers fell rapidly during the mid-2000s, increased slightly after the 2008 financial crisis, and then continued a more gradual fall between 2012 and 2021.
The data for 1997 to 2001 cannot be validated as they may include municipal assistance in addition to provincial family benefits. During this period, it was common for family benefits clients to access special needs benefits from their local municipal social assistance offices.
Figure 1NS – Yearly cases and beneficiaries of Employment Support and Income Assistance (ESIA) in Nova Scotia, 1997 to 2022
What proportion of the population receives social assistance?
In 2021-22, on average, 5.4 per cent of people in Nova Scotia under 65 received Employment Support and Income Assistance (ESIA), which is one in 19. The proportion of recipients receiving ESIA has followed a similar pattern as the total number of recipients. On average, the proportion gradually decreased starting in 2002 until reaching 5.4 per cent in 2008-09, followed by a period of slight increase until hitting a peak of 5.8 per cent in 2013-14, then a gradual decrease until reaching its lowest point in 2020-21. This was followed by the first increase in nine years in 2021-22.
Note: The total population under 65 is estimated on July 1 of a given year, whereas social assistance beneficiary data is for March 31 of a given year until 2007, and a fiscal year average (April to March) afterwards.
Figure 2NS – Yearly beneficiaries of Employment Support and Income Assistance (ESIA) as a proportion of the under-65 population in Nova Scotia, 1997 to 2022
Who is receiving social assistance?
In 2021-22, the vast majority of cases of Employment Support and Income Assistance in Nova Scotia were unattached single households with 73 per cent. They also had the highest proportion of beneficiaries, with nearly 48 per cent. Single parents were second for both, with over 18 per cent of cases and 34 per cent of beneficiaries.
Females made up a large majority of ESIA beneficiaries in 2021-22, with almost 60 per cent. The distribution of beneficiaries between both gender categories changed significantly, going from 51 per cent female and 49 per cent male in 2020-21 to 60 per cent female and 40 per cent male in 2021-22.
Figure 3NS – Cases and beneficiaries of the Employment Support and Income Assistance (ESIA) by household in Nova Scotia, 2020-21 and 2021-22
Figure 4NS – Beneficiaries of the Employment Support and Income Assistance (ESIA) by gender in Nova Scotia, 2020-21 and 2021-22
Figure 5NS – Yearly social assistance data for Nova Scotia, 1997 to 2022
Figure 6NS – Social assistance data by household for Nova Scotia, 2020-21 and 2021-22
Figure 7NS – Social assistance data by gender for Nova Scotia, 2020-21 and 2021-22
- 2006 and prior, the data reflects the number of cases and beneficiaries on March 31 of each year. In 2007, the data reflects the numbers in January.
- 2007-08 onwards, the data reflects the number of cases and beneficiaries over the fiscal year (April 1 to March 31).
- 509 beneficiaries in 2020-21 and 305 beneficiaries in 2021-22 did not provide information about their gender.
- Figures for 1997 to 2001 may include municipal assistance caseload and beneficiary figures in addition to provincial family benefits. During this period, it was common for family benefits clients to access special needs benefits from their local municipal social assistance offices. As a result, caseload figures for these years cannot be validated.
- The numbers do not include First Nations living on reserves.
- Click here for more information about how the data is gathered