Publications, opinions, and speeches

Webinar recording

Webinar recording: Launch event of Welfare in Canada, 2020

Published on 09/12/2021

Using data provided by provincial and territorial government sources, Welfare in Canada, 2020 describes the components of welfare incomes, how they have changed from previous years, and how they compared to low-income thresholds. The report also explores how households who received social assistance fared in the first year of the pandemic.

Access the report here.

Recorded on December 9, the Welfare in Canada, 2020 launch event started with a brief presentation of the report’s key findings, followed by a panel discussion.


  • Jennefer Laidley, Consultant; Co-author of Welfare in Canada
  • Mohy Tabbara, Policy Advisor, Maytree; Co-author of Welfare in Canada
  • Anita Khanna, National Director, Public Policy and Government Relations, United Way Centraide Canada


  • Garima Talwar Kapoor, Director, Policy and Research, Maytree

Watch the event recording:

Full event transcript of event

Note: The transcript has been edited for clarity

Garima Talwar Kapoor:

Good afternoon, everyone. It’s great to see you. My name is Garima Talwar Kapoor, and I am the Director of Policy and Research with Maytree. I am so thrilled to see you all join us today for our panel discussion on our Welfare in Canada, 2020 report. As many of you will know, the report was launched this morning at 10:00 AM, and so it’s hot off the presses and we are so delighted to have you all join us for this really important conversation.

Before I begin, I’d like to start with the land acknowledgement. While many of you are joining us from across Canada, and I see from the chat, from across the world, I would like to acknowledge that Maytree’s office is on the historical territory of the Huron Wendat, Petun, Seneca, and most recently the Mississaugas of the New Credit Indigenous Peoples. This territory is covered by the Dish with One Spoon Wampam Belt covenant, an agreement between the Haudenosaunee and the Ojibwe, and allied nations to peaceably share and care for the lands and resources around the Great Lakes.

During today’s webinar, please note that you can use the chat box to converse with each other and comment on what you’re hearing. Please do note that everyone on the webinar can see your comments. We have also ensured that to make sure that we have a lively and open and respectful conversation, our anti-harassment policy is in effect, and my colleague Yukon will paste that in the chat soon.

If you’ve got at a question for the panelists during the Q&A, please use the Q&A function on Zoom. We are also using a closed caption service. And so if you’d like to use that, please enable that on your Zoom screen. Further, please note that today’s webinar is being recorded, and we will be posting that on Maytree’s website in the coming weeks.

And now onto today’s webinar. Today’s panel discussion goes beyond what is in the over 140 pages of the Welfare in Canada, 2020 report. This panel discussion will first start off with the presentation by the co-authors of the report, Jennefer Laidley and Mohy Tabbara. Then we’ll move over to a Q&A that’s moderated by myself, and then we will move into the audience Q&A. For today’s discussion, we will have Jennefer Laidley join us, and she is a consultant and co-author of the Welfare in Canada report. Mohy Tabbara is a policy advisor with Maytree, and co-author of the Welfare in Canada report.

And after the presentation, joining us for the panel, we have Anita Khanna, who is the national director, public policy and government relations with the United Way Centraide Canada. Jen and Mohy over to you.

Jennefer Laidley:

That’s great. Thank you very much, Garima. I’m really thrilled to be here today. Hello, everybody. Just first, as a land acknowledgement: I’m coming to you from the unceded traditional territory of the Snuneymuxw First Nation, here on Gabriola Island, BC, and as an uninvited settler I want to recognize Snuneymuxw title and to thank the Coast Salish and Hul’q’umi’num speaking nations for their stewardship of this land.

Mohy Tabbara:

Hi everyone. My name is Mohy Tabbara, and I come to you from Tiohtiá:ke/Montreal, which is situated on the traditional territory of the Kanien’kehà:ka, a place which has long served as a site of meeting and exchange amongst many First Nations including the Kanien’kehá:ka of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, the Huron/Wendat, Abenaki, and Anishinaabeg.

Jennefer Laidley:

And I know that Mohy and I are both very happy to have all of you with us today. Before we go any further, I first want to extend a really special thank you to the many ministerial contacts in the provinces and territories who provided very helpful information, and confirmed the data in the report. And to Statistics Canada experts, who gave some along the way, we really couldn’t produce this report without their assistance. So thanks very much.

So let’s dive in, first, as you know, Welfare in Canada is a reference report it’s used by civil servants, elected officials, journalists, academics, advocates, organizers, researchers, and people receive social assistance themselves. And we really hope that it’s helpful, not only to understanding welfare incomes, but also to reducing the depth of poverty that social assistance recipients experience in Canada. The report is based on the same methodology that was established by the National Council of Welfare when they started reporting on social assistance incomes way it back in 1989. And the Caledon Institute picked up these reports in 2020, and Maytree took over in 2018. I’m sorry, the Caledon Institute picked up the reports in 2012, sorry, and Maytree took over in 2018.

In this presentation, we’re going to be looking at the data that’s in the report, and hopefully, all you have clicked the link and downloaded it. But we’re going to go a bit beyond the data and give you some analysis about what the figures in the report mean.

So first methodology, so the details are in the introduction to the report, I encourage you all to read through it because it’s important to understanding who we’re looking at, and how we put the data together. But in broad strokes, we look at the total incomes of these four example households in each of the 13 provinces and territories. And in total, we look at the incomes of 53 different households across the country.

Total incomes include not only social assistance, but also certain additional social assistance benefits, tax credits, and child benefits where applicable. And we make a number of assumptions, which I say are all in the methodology section. But just to highlight a few, the heads of households are deemed employable, except for the unattached singles with a disability, although they had no employment income.

And beyond other methodological details, payments related to the COVID-19 pandemic are included, if they were automatic or had a 50% or greater take up rate. Now the federal CERB, the CRB, and employ insurance are not included, because our assumption is that our households were not employed when the pandemic hit. Now, this methodology allows for comparisons to be made year after year, but it’s important to note that the report really doesn’t reflect everyone’s experience of being on welfare. So, now, Mohy is going to take us to look at the components of the total welfare incomes.

Mohy Tabbara:

Thank you, Jennefer. So as you see in this slide, the graphs represent a simplified version of the components of welfare income. Social assistance is in gray, which are provincial and territorial programs. The benefits from federal government are in green, and benefits from provinces or territories are in purple.

And as you can see, social assistance benefits make up the very large majority of total welfare income. Federal benefits, in comparison, are just a sliver of total welfare income. Provincial and territory benefits vary, but as you can see, they’re not very high. And between the two graphs, social assistance varies between the two households here, which are the unattached single considered employable, and the unattached single with a disability. But when we look at the other two benefits, the provincial territorial and federal they’re about the same between the two. And notably, people with disabilities in Canada who have no employment income, do not get extra income support from the federal government.

If you look at this next slide, we see that, similarly, social assistance makes up the majority of total welfare incomes for households with children. However, the federal government provides them with much more significant benefits, and that’s due to the high amount of the CCB or Canada Child Benefit that they receive. The provincial and territorial supports are also higher, and that mostly comes from provincial or territorial child benefits.

Overall, social assistance makes up the large majority of welfare incomes for the households that we’re looking at. And there are no federal programs that target people who have no attachment to the labour market. This notably affects the households who don’t have children and can’t access generous supports like the Canada Child Benefit. Now that we’ve seen where welfare income comes from, let’s look at how it changed from last year.

Jennefer Laidley:

Thanks Mohy. So this table shows how much welfare incomes increased between 2019 and 2020, which actually was a real surprise to me, once we got the data compiled. So you’ll see the numbers in blue are the highest increases and those in orange are the lowest increases. So the first thing to note here is that the incomes of every one of our 53 households went up, and sometimes by significant amounts over 2019. The second thing to note is that all of these increases were above the rate of inflation. Now, of course, inflation was very low in 2020 at point seven percent, but the combination of real income increases and low inflation means real gains in real terms for all of our households this year.

The third thing to note, however, is the variability of the increases. And we can see that there are larger increases in some provinces and territories than others, but there doesn’t seem to be a focus on one household type over another. So for example, it’s not as though households with children had increases that were more proportionally than other households.

To point out just a couple of highlights, you’ll see that PEI is pretty consistently increasing benefits across all households. Saskatchewan increases for three of those households came from a new basic social assistance program. British Columbia’s increases, which were very high for all households were almost exclusively from COVID-19 related payments, and we’ll talk about that a little later. I do need to point out that in Newfoundland and Labrador, the big increase for unattached singles with a disability largely represents data that we didn’t have previously, so that’s really kind of a methodological outlier.

But the main point here is that these increases and their magnitude are great. There are very positive step forward, but really these numbers don’t tell us anything about whether incomes in 2020 were sufficient for people to live out of poverty. And for that, I’m going to turn it back to Mohy to look at our analysis of adequacy.

Mohy Tabbara:

So in the Welfare in Canada report, we used primarily two poverty thresholds to analyze the adequacy of incomes of our example households. And they are the official poverty line, which is the Market Basket Measure, or MBM, and the deep income poverty threshold, which is 75% of MBM. And at 75% of MBM, a household has no disposable income and would struggle to afford basic necessities like food and shelter. It’s worth noting that the Market Basket Measure, or MBM, is a regional measure, so we use the MBM of the largest city in each province, so for example, Calgary, in Alberta. And this is because the cost of living varies greatly even within a province.

It’s also worth noting that the territories are not included in these slides. And that’s because Statistics Canada is working with the territories to create an MBM for their jurisdictions, and we will incorporate them into the report once they’re available.

If you look at this graph in particular for the unattached, single considered employable, the red bars are the welfare incomes of these households. The black lines are the official poverty lines. And the gray lines, which are below the black lines, are the deep income poverty thresholds. And as you can see here, not a single unattached single’s income crosses the black line. So this means that they’re all living in poverty. Furthermore, no income even comes close to the gray line, which means that they’re all living in deep poverty. If you look at Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in particular, their welfare incomes were less than half of the deep income poverty thresholds.

Now, if you move on to unattached singles with a disability, it’s worth noting that the thresholds and the official poverty lines are the same as for the unattached single considered employable. And what this means is that the additional cost of living for a person with a disability is not factored into the MBM, so poverty here may be underrepresented. Only two of the households cross the deep income poverty threshold, and they’re Alberta for those who receive AISH and Newfoundland and Labrador. But in both cases, there are still far from the official poverty line. For three of the provinces, the gap below the deep income poverty line is very significant. And I would point to Alberta for people who receive BFE, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

In the next slide, looking at single parents with one child, we can start seeing a difference with households that have children, relative to the unattached single households. And this is primarily because of federal and provincial child supports that show up here. And while still very much inadequate, the gap below the deep income poverty thresholds, the gray line, is generally smaller for single parents with a child than as we previously saw for unattached singles. About half were in poverty, but they were at least above the deep income poverty threshold. Four others were in deep poverty but were close to the threshold. But in all cases, they are still living in poverty. And the gap to make up is still significant.

Finally, looking at the fourth household, which is couples with two children, it’s a similar story as for the single parent with one child. Only two households cross the deep income poverty threshold, which are PEI and Quebec. And it’s worth noting that of all the households in the report, the couple with two children in Quebec, is the closest household to the official poverty line.

Overall, none of the households reach the poverty line. And this means that all households were living in poverty. Nine households crossed the deep income party of thresholds, but none of which were unattached singles considered employable. And so significant investments will have to be made to guarantee an adequate standard of living and a life of dignity to household who receive social assistance.

These graphs are new to the reports, and this is adequacy over time. In the slide, we have four examples for four different provinces. As you can see, while there is fluctuation in the adequacy of welfare incomes over time, there’s generally been very little improvement over the past 20 years, in terms of adequacy, with a few exceptions like PEI, as Jennefer mentioned. And in 2020, as you can see at the end of these graphs, even during a global pandemic, there was hardly any progress made. And as we’ll see, additional supports from governments to people receiving social assistance during the pandemic were relatively small.

Jennefer Laidley:

Moving on to the pandemic supports this slide shows the proportion of total income that came from supports related to the pandemic in 2020. Now this slide is just for the unattached singles who are deemed employable, but it gives you a flavor of the issue. And that is that governments responded very differently to the pandemic, in terms of the amount of support that they offered to people receiving social assistance. And we’ll see that in the next slide as well.

Some of the pandemic supports that our households received came from the federal government, as we said, through the GST credit and through the Canada Child Benefit. And in fact, all 53 of the households that we looked at received these payments. But in seven jurisdictions, these payments, the payments from the federal government, were the only pandemic related payments that our households received. In the six other jurisdictions, which are indicated with diamonds there, our households also received payments from their provincial or territorial governments.

Now, I need to note, however, that Manitoba provided payments to people with disabilities, but they’re not on this slide because this is not a slide that represents those that household. And I also have to note that Ontario did have pandemic related payments that people on social assistance had access to, but they weren’t consistent with Welfare in Canada methodology, so they weren’t included in the analysis.

You can see that the proportion of total income from these payments varied a lot from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Clearly, British Columbia was at the top of the list for the proportion of income from pandemic supports, but in the other the proportions were relatively small. So, again, the point here is that while the emergency of the pandemic did provide a policy focus on income inadequacy that we all heard about in 2020, there was generally very little extra government support for people on social assistance, as a result of the pandemic.

And this next slide, if we think back a few slides, every single household that we looked at saw an increase in welfare income this year, but this graph shows that for many households, a large proportion of those increases came from pandemic related payments. As small as some of those payments were, they did contribute to reducing the depth of poverty of every household, but these payments were mostly one time contributions, and there’s no guarantee that they will continue, as somebody asked in the chat I saw earlier. In addition to the much higher inflation that we’re seeing in 2021, our households are likely to see a drop in real income from the absence of these or the loss of these COVID-19 supports. So it’s likely that they’ll be worse off in 2021.

Mohy Tabbara:

And in 2020, the federal government showed their willingness to spend money on income supports. And that’s most notably through the Canada Emergency Response Benefit or CERB. However, this was only available to those who had recent employment income. So none of our households qualified. This graph highlights welfare incomes relative to CERB for an unattached single, considered employable. The red line at the top is the CERB at $2,000 per month, and the bars are the welfare incomes. And the brown part at the top are the COVID-19 supports that were received by the households. And as you can see, they clearly pale in comparison.

The amount of COVID-19 supports is negligible relative to CERB. And total incomes, in general, were much lower than CERB in almost every instance. Those who had no attachment to the labour market were forgotten by governments during the pandemic. Governments have shown a willingness to invest in people in a time of crisis. And for these households that we looked at the crisis is every day. So we hope that governments will at the very least compensate the loss of COVID-19 supports. If not, hopefully, invest in much more adequate benefits. Thank you.

Jennefer Laidley:

Thanks very much, that brings us to the end of our presentation. And we really look forward to your questions in the discussion that we’re going to have now. Thanks for your interest and attention, and thanks again to our jurisdictional contacts for their assistance. So back over to you Garima.

Garima Talwar Kapoor:

Great, thanks so much, Jennefer and Mohy, that was a really, really illuminating presentation. And so we can see in the chat and in the Q&A, the questions are coming in hot, and lots of discussion about what this means for people receiving social assistance, post-pandemic benefits. Let’s get right into the Q&A, and Anita, let me start with you. Reflecting on what you saw in the paper and what you heard in the presentation, what surprised you the most?

Anita Khanna:

Thanks Garima, and thanks, Jennefer and Mohy. Hello everyone. I’ll first say that I’m joining today from the unceded territory of the Mi’kma’ki. I’m located in rural Nova Scotia in a place called Mavillette. So Garima, really, I think seeing the depth of poverty in such stark terms through the data in the report was shocking. I find it always shocking, if not actually surprising at this point, and the amount of knowledge that we have, and the research that we’ve seen over the years about welfare incomes. Really struck to see that unattached individuals considered employable, in Halifax, have income that are just 34% of the MBM was shocking to me. Also, noted that the highest level of adequacy for that household in Quebec is at 63% of the MBM or the poverty line. And that just was a reminder to me that, unfortunately, while the worst is really bad, the best is still very far from good enough, when it comes to income adequacy.

I was also struck by how 2020 data showed higher total assistance, sorry, total social assistance rates for all groups, the percentage of the MBM that those groups were receiving, in most cases, was barely changed. So I saw in Alberta that the welfare incomes for the first household of a single adult, considered employable, it barely changed over 18 years.

In 2002, their income was 36% of the MBM, while in 2020, it represented 40% of the MBM. That’s a very small change over 18 in years. Especially when you consider that the wealthiest decile of families saw huge gains in their incomes over the same period. So something like 70 to $80,000 on average for families with children compared to the lowest decile that only saw a $4,000 increase over the same period of time. So really seeing that income inequality mirrored and in legislative programs was stark to me.

Garima Talwar Kapoor:

Thanks, Anita. Jennefer, Mohy, what are your reflections of what surprised you the most as you worked on the report?

Jennefer Laidley:

As I said in the presentation, once we got the data compiled about increases over 2019, I was really struck by the magnitude of those increases, and yet then when we did the comparisons of adequacy over time, how that compares or aligns or doesn’t align with the persistence of the depth of poverty that every household that we looked at lives with. So, as Anita raised, I’m really struck by the lack of progress that we’ve had over the last, nearly, 20 years.

I’m also always struck by how much worse off singles are compared to others. And as has been mentioned already, child benefits are a big part of that story. They do provide a significant income source for families, households, with children, but there’s no similar federal income source from the federal government for singles who don’t have any attachment to the labour market.

I got up this morning and I turned on the radio news, and the first thing I heard was that the report has been released that says that food prices are slated to increase by a $1,000 next year for a family of four. And I thought, well, isn’t that interesting timing? Of course, that’s going to be extremely difficult for singles and families with children on social assistance across the country.

The second thing that I heard was that the federal minister of finance is at committee today trying to get a bill for pandemic relief passed. And I thought, wouldn’t it be great, wouldn’t it be really wonderful if government include targeted supports for people on social assistance across Canada in that legislation?

Garima Talwar Kapoor:

Yeah, no, definitely. And I think Jennefer to your point of the importance of pandemic benefits and providing that little bump, depending on which jurisdiction you’re in, is also important to remember that whether people got that maximum amount or not, really depending on which jurisdiction they were in, what their individual circumstances were. And I see in the chat that that’s coming up as a theme. And so certainly want to reflect that that nuance of the individual person or family and how they receive these benefits might defer from what’s captured as a baseline in the report. Mohy, I wanted to turn it over to you for your reflections.

Mohy Tabbara:

Thank you, Garima. I think, for me, as you were compiling the data, I was really struck by how small the COVID supports were in 2020. And in a way, I was hoping to be pleasantly surprised, and I wasn’t. Even the most generous province, which was British Columbia, a single, for example, received a bit more than $3,000. So that’s about a month and a half of CERB compared to what people with recent attachment to the labour market received, which is $2,000 for several months in a row.

And as well, as I mentioned in the presentation, the adequacy over time graphs are new to this year’s report. And I just remember when we plotted them for the first time, I mean, seeing fluctuation, but more or less flat for most of them was surprising. We forget year over year, how little things change. So to me, those were my two reactions.

Garima Talwar Kapoor:

No, definitely. And I’m seeing through some of the questions that are coming in, what we’ve learned about welfare incomes over time and how they might bump up against the federal government’s, at least, legislated target to reduce poverty by 50% by 2030. Especially, since there’s often the question of, do you address people that are just at that passing the poverty threshold income level? Or do you really, really, really support those living in deep poverty?

And that segues me into my next question, actually, around what I heard a lot about was unattached, singles people without dependents or without kids being in greatest need. And is that the story that you’re seeing consistently across all jurisdictions? Is there something striking for you regarding regional variation in the amount of support provided to people receiving social assistance? Jennefer, why don’t you kick us off on that?

Jennefer Laidley:

Well, I think maybe one of my colleagues here has more to say it about regional variation than I do. I mean, in pure numbers Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have the lowest incomes among the provinces. In the territories, it’s Nunavut. BC and PEI are doing the best for unattached singles. And progress, as I said earlier, is being made in PEI for all household types, which is great. And it reflects the focus that that province has had on poverty reduction over the last four years or so. Quebec is making great strides. It makes me wonder if we should think about doing some kind of a regional snapshot in future editions with the report, just to highlight that very issue.

Yes, singles are worse off in every jurisdiction by a significant amount. And that’s definitely a theme throughout the report, but also singles with disabilities. There are some provinces that have targeted, assured income programs, and I’d like to take a closer look into those in future editions as well. As Mohy was saying, they typically have higher costs that are associated with their disability, but those aren’t taken into account, so it’s tough to know exactly.

People who receive social assistance make up somewhere between 35 and 40% of people living in poverty in Canada. So as you were saying, Garima, a federal poverty reduction strategy really needs to take them into account, because if the depth of poverty across the country is to be addressed, we need to address social assistance incomes.

And I also wanted to remark that people on social assistance make up about 51% of people receiving supports from food banks, which to me is striking, if not appalling. Because we really need to be asking ourselves should folks, our neighbors and friends have to rely on charity in order to feed themselves. It’s a critically important question.

Garima Talwar Kapoor:

Absolutely. Mohy, I’ll turn it over to you.

Mohy Tabbara:

Just to echo some of the things that Jennefer was saying, and Anita as well. When I look at the Maritimes in particular, you can really see a divergence. And I think it’s, as Jennefer mentioned, PEI had a poverty reduction strategy that focused on social assistance. And so you can see them diverging from the other two Maritime provinces as the welfare incomes increase. So it shows that with some will and political support, et cetera, that there is a chance to improve things, and to improve things in a short amount of time.

When it comes to unattached singles, I mean, it’s worth noting that of the three point seven million Canadians who live in poverty, around a third are unattached singles between 18 and 64. So that means that their poverty rate is tripled out of the general population, and significantly higher than families.

And if we look at the population of people who do receive social assistance, a very large amount of them, and the majority I would say, are unattached singles. So the fact that the largest group who receives social assistance receives the least, is definitely a problem.

I also think that when it comes to people with disabilities, the fact that the main difference between a person with a disability and someone who isn’t, is just social assistance and that there aren’t any other government supports that are specific to them, is noteworthy. Because, I mean, they are a population that is in need, and who we can better support. So, hopefully, that’s something that’s taken into consideration going forward.

Garima Talwar Kapoor:

Thanks so much everyone. I’m seeing a lot of questions coming in, in the Q&A, and so my next question will try to address many of them, and then we’ll move into the audience Q&A. What we’re able to see from the report reflects what we’re able to measure. And let’s be candid about what we’re able to measure and who we’re able to sort of shine light on. What is missing from this report? Who is missing from this report? And as we think about future reports and future work, what opportunities are there to strengthen how we think about the intersectional dimensions of poverty? Anita, let me start with you, and then Mohy, and then Jennefer.

Anita Khanna:

Thanks, Garima. So it’s a really good question. And the first thing I wanted to mention is, as the report points out, the MBM has only recently been calculated for the territories. I see from the chat, other people have received the email from StatCan just now, talking about an info session just about that. So we know that we don’t have data for the MBM, sorry, for the territories. We also know that the MBM is based on of the population that doesn’t include First Nations people living on reserve, or people in institutions like prisons or group homes or parents who might be under 18, and those are just some examples. These are all groups that have higher rates of poverty, so this means that the MBM may be underestimating poverty levels in this country.

As you alluded too, I too am really interested in the experiences of people underneath the numbers in the report. So how many are in intergenerational poverty? How many are newcomers? Or racialized? Or are fleeing gender-based violence? Or homophobia and transphobia? Knowing that type of information will certainly point to other areas where policies and program can be improved at the federal, and the provincial and territorial levels, because poverty does have such a disproportionate impact on those from marginalized groups.

I was going to also speak to how 2020 led to such significant changes in the amount of supports, supplies, and programs that were available that provide social connections and help people meet basic needs, as Jennefer alluded to. So there were school closures and some agencies in our communities like community centres and programs were either closed for the short term, the long term, and in some unfortunate cases permanently closed, and won’t be returning to communities. So some things, programs like counseling and social connections, youth programs went virtual, but some programs like school food programs were often very hard to replicate in a lockdown situation.

So we know that folks on social assistance really are helped getting through the month, when they patch together programs and supports like food programs, like programs that provide social support as well as bus fare. And there was a real absence as we know of these opportunities through the pandemic, and a lot of fear associated with going into congregate settings. So I think it would be really interesting also to understand how people got through these very difficult times, how they filled gaps, and what gaps were left unfilled, and what they went without. All of that sort of information will be really essential to strength our social safety net moving forward.

Garima Talwar Kapoor:

Thank you, Anita. Jennefer, do you want to go next? I see you’re unmuted, and then we’ll go over to Mohy.

Jennefer Laidley:

Well, I don’t have very much more to add to what Anita said. I mean, the report doesn’t tell us in anything about the specific impacts of low incomes, these low incomes on people of color, indigenous people, rural residents, women, transgender people. And as far as I know, the provinces and territories, don’t collect data on demographic categories like race or gender identity, so we don’t have any administrative data to fall back on to understand those impacts. We can definitely make some inferences about these impacts, and I know that there has and continues to be research being done on just that subject. And so I think that this report can be a really good reference and resource for researchers and advocates who are doing that kind of work.

Mohy Tabbara:

I mean, I would agree that there’s definitely a difference between data and lived experience, and that we should always contextualize the data with people’s lived experience. Another aspect as well is, so in this report, we look at welfare income, and so it’s income from social assistance. But it’s easy to forget that those who receive social assistance also receive a number of services, most importantly health services, and those aren’t taken into account, and there’s often variation across the country. So having a better understanding of these services, how they’re distributed, what the gaps are, would definitely be a worthy endeavour, going forward.

Garima Talwar Kapoor:

Thanks Mohy. And I want to keep that in mind for a second, but I just want to start to address some of the questions that are coming in. And so maybe just quickly, there are some, I’d say more, sorry, not analytical, but just straightforward questions. So somebody is asking if the report indicates the number of people receiving social assistance? And that’s not in this report, but that is in our Social Assistance Summaries that you can find on Maytree’s website. Just, again, from a method perspective, somebody is asking, does the MBM and poverty threshold calculation account for the number of children in a household? So is there an adjustment of the MBM by household size? Does anybody want to take that on, just a quick answer?

Jennefer Laidley:

Yes. The answer to that question is yes. And that’s why we had the different MBM levels for the different household types, because family size is accounted for.

Garima Talwar Kapoor:

Great, thank you.

Jennefer Laidley:

As well as regionality.

Garima Talwar Kapoor:

Yes, but what is missing from that adjustment is taking into account the higher cost of living that people with disabilities have, including families who have children with disabilities.

There’s another question in here, and they’re a bit tied together. A, is the assumption that people with disabilities are not employable, is that discriminatory and ableist? And I do not want to suggest that, that is not, we’re just using definitions that were produced by the Council on Welfare decades ago. And in ensuring the longitudinal nature of the data, that’s how we’ve continued to use the definitions. Jennefer, do you want to step in there?

Jennefer Laidley:

Yeah. That’s a really, really good point. And I think that it’s a challenge, not only for people on disabilities, but also for benefit designers to really recognize that people with disabilities are able to work. For many, many years, for decades, there’s been this kind of assumption made that people with disabilities aren’t able to work and therefore there needs to be specific programs for them. And, yes, there do need to be specific programs for them, but access to those programs and benefit levels for those programs, often, don’t take into account the interactions that people with disabilities may or may not have to the labour market and to employment income.

So, for example, folks with episodic disabilities often find it difficult to qualify for disability related programs, because they don’t fit into the box of how those programs understand what disability looks like, and how it operates on a day-to-day basis for them. So that’s a really important point and a really important question that needs attention by policymakers. It’s a difficult nut to crack, but we need to do better for people who don’t fit into that box.

Garima Talwar Kapoor:

Absolutely. Thank you, Jennefer. Just quickly, I think not as a follow-on to that, but just in terms of the interactions between CERB and people receiving social assistance, Mohy, do you want to touch on what the assumptions are around there? And how we’re not taking into account clawbacks between the two programs?

Mohy Tabbara:

Yeah. So to qualify for CERB you had to have earned a certain amount of income from employment in the previous 12 months or in 2019. And so within the assumptions of the report, we don’t assume that they earned the income that’s sufficient for them to qualify. And that’s the reality of a lot of people who receive social assistance. And, yes, people who receive social assistants do tend to work. And so many of them were able to transition on to CERB during the pandemic. Of course, transitioning out of it and back to social assistance for some of them has been a challenge. And that’s something that we’ll have to look at going forward.

There’s also the issue of clawbacks that affect a number of programs going forward. And there’s been a lot of work on this, and it’s not just relative to social assistance, but other programs like GIS. So that’s an ongoing issue that we’re still working on.

Garima Talwar Kapoor:

Okay, thank you. We’ve got about 10 minutes left for Q&A. So folks, please feel free to continue adding your questions to the Q&A box. But this is a hot topic issue, and so definitely do want to address it. The question of basic income, the question is really, did we think of basic income in the assessment of this report? But I think more broadly, I think the question is around, it goes back to the story part, and what are we seeing from the data about who is in greatest need and how do we think about ensuring people can live a life with dignity?

Mohy Tabbara:

So what I’d say about basic income, I mean, it’s very much long-term project, if that’s the direction that that policy makers want to go in. But the reality is that people receiving social assistance need better income supports right now. And so we really need to focus on finding ways to improve social assistance, even if we do want to implement another program going forward. Because if it comes in five years from now, this is five years of inadequate welfare incomes for people.

The other thing I’d mentioned as well is, the services aspect that I talked about a bit earlier. And that’s an aspect of social assistance that is often missed. So we have to be aware of this going forward, even within discussions of basic income. And not necessarily to replace social assistance, but we need to be aware of all the components of social assistance before we think of phasing out of it, if that’s the direction that we want to go in.

Garima Talwar Kapoor:

Jennefer, did you want to get in there at all?

Jennefer Laidley:

I don’t really have much to add, other than I totally agree with Mohy, and I’ve written about this in the past, from the perspective of social assistance, we really need to keep an eye on what might be lost if and when we go to a basic income, and for folks who are advocating for basic income. Because there are a number of really important supports and services that, if they were just to be monetized and included in a higher check, may not be available to people or it may be through the free market or it may be very difficult for people to access in that way.

And of course, incomes would have to increase significantly in order to make up for that difference. And it gets to the point of individual need. We need to recognize the fact that there are some folks who have much higher need than others, and I’m thinking particularly about people with disabilities in this instance, but I’m sure that applies to others. So you don’t want to be taking away from one group in order to give to another, all boats need to rise.

Garima Talwar Kapoor:

Absolutely, Jennefer. And I think that this leads me to the next question, and, Anita I’ll start with you. But in a conversation about basic income and thinking about who needs support and reaching people where and how they need support, this idea of targeted incomes is coming up. So we’ve got a income support, floor support for families with children. We’ve got base support for seniors and low income seniors. I am not suggesting that these benefits are enough to help people reach the poverty line, let alone surpass the poverty line.

Anita, as you’ll be aware, there’s a lot of momentum right now around the Canada Disability Benefit as one of those types of baseline income support programs that might help resolve some of the issues that people with disabilities are facing. So there’s that momentum, but we also have governments where, for social assistance, the real push is to get people into work. In Ontario, there’s a massive transformation taking place around how social assistance benefits and services are delivered. So this is a bit of an existential question, but what do you make of that tension? And is there a way to resolve that tension?

Anita Khanna:

That’s a great question, Garima. I do think taking leadership from folks with disability who have really organized, I think in such a powerful way through the pandemic around the Canada Disability Benefit, or what is being called that, I think is a really powerful indication that this has quite a bit of support. That there’s obviously a true need, and that there’s learning from, as you mentioned, these other benefits for seniors and children, and the important impact and the need for the federal government to work on a benefit for people with disabilities. And I think with a broad and inclusive definition of what disability is as well.

And I do think one of the really important pieces will be to ensure that such a benefit is not clawed back by provincial and territorial income assistance programs across the country. I think recognizing the higher costs associated with living with disabilities, the cost of aides, physical aides, if you will, or other supports, therapies and those types of things, they are really often hard to access in some communities, require travel outside rural communities, and really add to the cost of living and are necessities.

So I do think, we would heed, of course, this movement that’s happening. And we know the federal government has something in progress when it comes to this benefit. So don’t know if I know how to resolve the tension, but really recognize that leadership from people living in poverty with disabilities.

Garima Talwar Kapoor:

Thanks, Anita. And we shouldn’t pretend that this is a new phenomenon or a new issue, right? It’s [crosstalk]-

Anita Khanna:


Garima Talwar Kapoor:

… forever, it feels. Jennefer, how about you, what are your thoughts on this?

Jennefer Laidley:

I mean, in relation to the possibility of a federal disability benefit, the only thing that I can say about that, I guess, is that access is going to be really important. And as I was saying earlier, it’s already pretty difficult. We see programs that recognize severity of disability, and that’s a difficult category, because how do you judge? How do you judge just kind of on a general level? But particularly for benefit related programs, what does access look like? What are the eligibility criteria that are put in place for programs, when severity of disability is so variable and people need supports throughout their lifetimes in different measures and throughout the year in different ways?

So it’s a complicated question. And of course, we need to err on the side of inclusion, rather than exclusion. We need to provide supports for all of those folks who need them. So I know that there are some very smart people who know about this issue and who are working on it. And I certainly encourage them to keep in mind, broad inclusion for any kind of a federal program.

Garima Talwar Kapoor:

Absolutely. Thank you, Jennefer. Mohy, did you want to add anything on that?

Mohy Tabbara:

Yes, please. I think that in the past few years, especially with the Canada Child Benefit, we’ve seen how targeted supports can help lift certain demographics or at least reduce their depth of poverty. And if we can apply this to people with disabilities, and, I mean, that’s definitely a good way to go forward. I would also encourage us to do the same for unattached singles considered employable, who also tend to be in deep income poverty.

The other thing that I’d mention as well is, some supports do exist at the federal level, but the problem is that you need to have income to access them. And I notably think of the Canada Worker’s Benefit, and, in particular, the disability supplement that’s within the Canada Worker’s Benefit, where, unless you earn income, and it’s a small amount, but you have to earn it, you cannot access those benefits. Also, the disability tax credit is nonrefundable, and that means that you need to have income to be able to have access to it. So if we made it refundable, then that could also help reduce depth of poverty of people disabilities in general. So I’d encourage the federal government to go in that direction.

Garima Talwar Kapoor:

Okay, Jennefer?

Jennefer Laidley:

I don’t want to kind of supercede what you’re doing, in terms of the moderating of the questions, but I just noticed somebody had asked a question about, I’m just conscious of the time, and why don’t social assistance benefits, or incomes rather at least reach the deep poverty level? And I really wanted to take a little bit of time to address, well, to try to think about that question, and the answer to that question.

And I really wanted to make the point that, the loss of federal adequacy standards back in the 1990s was a really big blow to the lives of people on social assistance. I mean, the fact that adequacy as a condition of receiving federal transfer payments was eliminated back in the ’90s is… I think that we’re seeing the legacy of that decision, of that policy decision at this point. And I know that Anita and I had been talking about that. So she may have more to add on that.

Garima Talwar Kapoor:

Anita, did you want to jump in on that?

Anita Khanna:

Sure. Thank you. Sorry, I was reading the very good questions in the chat and the points raised, so my apologies. Jennefer, yes, exactly. We have spoken in the past and I know the work of Campaign 2000, and Maytree and others, actually, has continually called for standards to applied to the Canada Social Transfer, in order to ensure that there are conditions on transfers related to income assistance to achieve a level of adequacy.

We’ve seen the example in the federal childcare negotiations happening right now, that federal fiscal spending power makes a big difference, and that conditions can be attached to money that is transferred from different jurisdictions, so to some national ones. So really, just to say that there is certainly momentum behind that ask, it is not unprecedented, and that it would make a huge difference as we move towards adequacy, which is essential, clearly.

Garima Talwar Kapoor:

Absolutely. Thank you, Anita. I’m mindful of the time. And so just want to be sharp in responding to one question around, whether there’s discussion with the new Poverty Reduction Council federally on resuming responsibility for producing this welfare incomes report? As we know, as part of the many things that have been downloaded from the federal government to provinces, and then depending on jurisdiction up to municipalities, since the ’90s, one of those downloading responsibilities includes measurement of welfare incomes.

And after the National Council on Welfare downloaded it, or Caledon picked it up, we’ve picked it up since then, and for those in federal government that are joining us today, we really do hope to pick up this conversation with you. We’ve got one minute left, and so in less than 15 seconds each, if I could ask you to mention just one key takeaway that you’d like folks to think about. Jennefer, let me start with you, Mohy, and then Anita.

Jennefer Laidley:

I guess it’s just that given that reports like this have been produced since 1989, really, the bell has been ringing for more than 30 years, about the depth of poverty among people receiving social assistance in Canada. I wonder, if the emergency of the pandemic didn’t do the job of bringing attention to this issue, I wonder what will, honestly.

So I don’t want to end on a very depressing note, but I want to encourage all of you who I know are out there, who are doing advocacy work to continue doing that work, advocacy and organizing work. Because we need to make some progress, and it comes not only from policy decisions made by governments, but also from the important work that all of you are doing.

Garima Talwar Kapoor:

Thank you, Mohy.

Mohy Tabbara:

Thank you. So my key takeaway is going to be more immediate, and that has to do with the loss of a lot of the one time COVID-19 supports, and the potential of that going forward, especially along with the very high inflation that we’ve been experiencing recently. So I really hope in people’s advocacy work or research, or even government work, that they will be conscious of this and that they will try to reduce the impact of that loss as much just possible.

Garima Talwar Kapoor:

Great point, thank you, Mohy, and Anita.

Anita Khanna:

Agreed that this is a moment unlike any others. We know people have greater attention. They understand the public health costs. They understand the impact of poverty on our society in a new way, due to the pandemic. There’s lots of interest in the data and the info. We see it from this event, as well as how much this report will be downloaded. So I think convening people who receive assistance, community agencies, policy thinkers, and government on the policy solutions will be really, really essential. Because what we want to do is leave poverty behind and stop leaving people behind in this. Thank you.

Garima Talwar Kapoor:

Thanks so much, Anita. And thanks so much to all of our panelists for their time today, and for everyone in our audience, joining us today. This is a very critical conversation, but we obviously can’t capture everything that’s out there, that needs to be discussed, but we do hope that you join us and continue talking and engaging with decision-makers and your local community to make change happen. We’ll leave it at that for today. Thanks so much for your time and hope you all have a good rest of the day.


Disability, Income security, Poverty


Recording of the Welfare in Canada, 2020 launch event highlighting the report’s key findings