How to reduce the depth of single adult poverty in Canada: Proposal for a Canada Working-Age Supplement
Working-age single adults without children (or unattached single adults) face the highest rates and deepest levels of poverty in Canada.
In 2019, this group represented half of the people living in deep poverty in the country. A long-standing policy principle of tying income supports for working-age adults to work effort no longer reflects the realities of the labour market. As such, Canada’s income support programs for unattached single adults is dated, and does not prioritize dignity and adequacy of support.
To address this policy issue, this report proposes the creation of a refundable tax credit for unattached single adults—the Canada Working-Age Supplement (CWAS). The CWAS would enhance and transform the parameters of the Canada Worker’s Benefit (CWB), and would be available to all unattached single adults living in poverty, whether they are working or not. The development of the CWAS would require adding a floor benefit to the CWB, and raising the maximum benefit higher than it is for the current CWB.
This report includes analysis of poverty in Canada today, an overview of the CWB, literature and jurisdictional reviews, and comprehensive modelling illustrating the distributive impacts and fiscal costs associated with different CWAS models. Ultimately, we recommend the implementation of CWAS Model 4, with a floor amount of $3,000 and a $1,000 employment boost, adding up to a maximum annual benefit of $4,000. If the CWB were transformed into the proposed CWAS, about 3.1 million unattached single adults across Canada would receive the benefit, of which about 1 million would be new recipients who are living in deep poverty.
The CWAS would not only complement Canada’s existing social safety net, it would be transformative in advancing the idea that working-age single adults should be eligible for income support not because they’ve earned it as workers, but because they need it as people. The CWAS needs to be introduced and implemented without delay.