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Webinar recording: Launch event of Welfare in Canada, 2021

Published on 28/11/2022

Using data provided by provincial and territorial government sources, Welfare in Canada, 2021 describes the components of welfare incomes, how they have changed from previous years, and how they compared to low-income thresholds.

Access the report here.

During the launch event, the report’s authors, Jennefer Laidley and Mohy Tabbara, broke down the latest welfare income data from all 13 provinces and territories and presented the key takeaways.

Recorded on November 24, the Welfare in Canada, 2021 launch event started with a brief presentation of the report’s key findings, followed by a panel discussion.

Presenters:

  • Jennefer Laidley, Consultant; co-author of Welfare in Canada
  • Mohy Tabbara, Policy Advisor, Maytree; co-author of Welfare in Canada

Moderator:

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

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Watch the event recording:

Full event transcript of event

Note: The transcript has been edited for clarity

Garima Talwar Kapoor 

Welcome everyone. My name is Garima Talwar Kapoor, and I’m the Director of Policy and Research with Maytree.  

Although we are virtual, I would like to acknowledge the land. I’m speaking to you from the traditional unseated territory of the Anishinabek Nation. Maytree offices are on the historical territory of the Huron-Wendat, Petun, Seneca, and most recently, the Mississauga’s of the new credit indigenous peoples who have stewarded the land for millennia. While our work here looks different from what originally took place, something we share is a commitment to building and maintaining a just and equitable society. This includes recognizing and respecting Indigenous rights in both our individual and collective work. As we cultivate community and care for each other in this work, let us also consider how we care for the land and our role in its continued stewardship. 

I am delighted to be welcoming you all to our briefing webinar today. As you know, Maytree’s Welfare in Canada report provides an in-depth look at the total income supports available to people receiving social assistance or people living in deep poverty across Canada. Maytree has been developing this report for several years. I won’t get too much into the details and that’s why we have our briefing webinar.  

We’re first going to have a presentation by the co-authors of Welfare in Canada. We will then have a short, moderated Q and A and then turn it to audience questions.  

Now it is my pleasure to pass it on to Mohy Tabbara, Policy Advisor at Maytree and Jennefer Laidley, Independent Consultant and previously with the Income Security Advocacy Center.  

Mohy and Jennefer, over to you. 

Jennefer Laidley 

Great. Thank you Garima. Hello everyone and welcome to our briefing and launch for the 2021 edition of Welfare in Canada. My name is Jennefer, and I’m here on the unseated traditional territory of the Snuneymuxw First Nation, on Gabriola Island in BC, and I want to recognize the Coast Salish and Hul’qumi’num speaking peoples for their historical title and stewardship of this land. 

Mohy Tabbara 

And hi everyone, I’m Mohy, and I’m coming to you from Tiohti:áke, or Montreal, which is situated on the traditional territory of the Kanien’kehá: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, Abanaki, and Anishinaabek. 

Jennefer Laidley 

Thank you very much to all of you for joining us today. First, we want to extend a very special thank you to all of our ministerial contacts in the provinces and territories who very helpfully provided information and confirmed the data in the report. And to Statistics Canada experts for information and advice. We couldn’t produce this report without their assistance, so thanks very much. So let’s launch into it.  

Welfare in Canada, as you know, is a reference report series that helps to understand and analyze the total amount of income that households who receive social assistance get from various government sources in Canada. And we hope it’s also helpful for efforts to reduce the depth of poverty that those folks experience. The reports are used by civil servants, elected officials, journalists, academics, advocates, organizers, researchers, and people receiving social assistance themselves. The report uses methodology that was established by the National Council of Welfare in reports that started in 1989, and the Caledon Institute picked up these reports in 2012, and Maytree took over in 2018. 

In this presentation, we’re going to look at what Welfare in Canada 2021 says, but we’re also going to go a bit beyond the data and provide some additional analysis. So what we’re going to do today is start by discussing how we create these reports, a little bit about the methodology of the reports. We’re then going to talk about some features of the report that are new this year. After that, we’ll look at what makes up total welfare incomes, the components and how they changed from 2020. We’re going to talk about the impact of inflation and the loss of COVID-19-related supports on welfare incomes. And then we’ll compare welfare incomes in 2021 with poverty measures to assess adequacy and take a big picture look at adequacy over the last 20 years. It’s a lot, but we’ll get through it relatively quickly. And lastly, we’ll leave you with some key takeaways from the report. So over to Mohy. 

Mohy Tabbara 

Now about the methodology, the details are in the introduction of the report and I encourage you to read it before moving to the analysis. But in broad strokes, in each of the 13 provinces and territories, we look at the total incomes of four example households. The unattached singles considered employable in red, unattached singles with a disability in orange, single parents with one child in light blue and couples with two children in navy. In total, we look at the incomes of 53 different households across the country. The extra household is due to having two unattached single with a disability household in Alberta. Total incomes include not only basic social assistance benefits, but also certain additional social assistance benefits, as well as refundable tax credits and child benefits were applicable. 

And we make a number of assumptions, but just to highlight a few, the heads of households are deemed employable except for the unattached singles with a disability. And this distinction is not our own making. However, it is very much still used even though it’s sort of archaic. And the households had no employment income and filed their tax returns. And income is for the calendar year, not the fiscal year. Our methodology allows for comparisons to be made year after year, but it’s important to note that the report doesn’t reflect every person’s experience of receiving social assistance. And now Jennefer will let you know about some new features of this year’s report. 

Jennefer Laidley 

Yes, we made three additions to the report this year. First, we’ve added two new appendices. The first provides information about which benefits and credits are indexed to inflation in the provinces and territories and which aren’t. And we know that indexing protects benefits and credits when costs of living increase. And this is important, especially given the current situation with inflation. The second appendix gives a breakdown of social assistance benefits to give a sense of whether basic costs and shelter costs are provided separately or together. And third, for the first time, we have sections that look at the adequacy of total incomes in the Northwest Territories in Yukon. The Northern Market Basket Measure has just been released, which establishes official poverty line thresholds for those two territories. And we’re going to talk about this a little bit more later on. And note that Statistics Canada is working on a Market Basket Measure for Nunavut, and we’re going to add the adequacy analysis for Nunavut in future reports when that measure becomes available. Now over to Mohy to look at the various sources of income that make up total welfare incomes. 

Mohy Tabbara 

I will present four simplified graphs that break down the components of welfare income for each household. In all four graphs social assistance is in gray. This includes both basic and additional benefits. Federal benefits are in orange. This includes the GST/HST tax credit, the Canada Child Benefit for households with children, and the climate action incentives for the provinces where it’s received. And the provincial and territorial benefits other than social assistance are in purple. These are tax-delivered benefits and child benefits that typically go to all low-income households. 

So in this first graph we have the components for unattached singles. We can see that social assistance benefits, which are different in each province and territory, make up the large majority of total welfare income. Federal benefits are just a sliver of total welfare income. And provincial and territorial benefits vary but are not very high. Notably, people with disabilities in Canada who have no employment income do not get extra income support from the federal government. Similarly, social assistance makes up the majority of total welfare incomes for households with children. However, they receive much higher benefits from the federal government through Canada Child Benefit payments. Provincial and territorial supports are also higher, mostly coming from child benefits. And in 2021, single parent households receive the Canada Child Benefit Young Child Supplement, the only pandemic-related benefit from the federal government in that year. 

Overall, social assistance, which is a provincial territorial program, makes up the large majority of welfare incomes for all household types. Also, 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, that is the unattached singles. Now that we’ve seen the sources of total welfare incomes, let’s see how they changed from last year. 

Jennefer Laidley 

This table shows us how much the welfare incomes of the unattached single households changed between 2020 and 2021. The numbers in orange show the jurisdictions where incomes decreased. The numbers in yellow show where they remained the same or increased, but the increase was negated by inflation. And the numbers in green show where incomes actually increased above the rate of inflation. So the first thing to note on this slide is that 70 per cent of the households saw a decrease in total income in 2021. And this is primarily because pandemic-related payments that were available in 2020 were no longer available in 2021. And we’re going to look at that a bit more in a couple of minutes. What’s important is that the vast majority experienced a decrease in total income. The second is that in four cases, incomes either stayed the same or increased by small amounts, and we’re going to look at in a minute at what small might mean. 

And the third is that the incomes of four households increased in meaningful ways. And this was in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. And again, we’re going to look at what meaningful means in a minute. But suffice to say that only four of the 27 unattached single households saw meaningful increases in their total incomes. And here’s the same information for households with children. Now in this case, we see a bit of a different trend in that 50 per cent had incomes that either stayed the same or increased by small amounts. For 42 per cent of the households incomes actually decreased. Again, this is largely because of the loss of pandemic benefits and only two saw meaningful increases in their total incomes. And these are, again, Nova Scotia and PEI. 

So what do small and meaningful mean in terms of increases to total incomes? Well, these graphs in the next couple of slides show the change in nominal total welfare incomes for unattached single households in all the provinces and territories, and this is without adjusting for inflation. The red line is inflation. It’s that 3.4 per cent rate of inflation over the last year. In only four cases do we see that the total incomes of unattached singles increased higher than the rate of inflation. That’s in Nova Scotia, in Prince Edward Island, as I’ve said before. About 6 per cent and 4 per cent in Nova Scotia and about seven and six in Prince Edward Island. And in this next slide we’ve got households with children. Only two cases saw increases higher than the rate of inflation. Again, only single parent households, Nova Scotia and PEI, both with about 5.5 per cent. 

So overall, looking at all four household types, only six out of 53 households saw meaningful increases in their total incomes. That’s only 11 per cent of our households. For 17 of the 53, about 32 per cent, the increases weren’t enough to compensate for inflation or they remained the same, so were degraded by inflation. And for the vast majority of cases where total incomes decreased, this loss of income was compounded by inflation. Which means that these households experienced the double whammy of decreasing total incomes and increasing costs of living. So let’s take a closer look at the loss of pandemic-related payments, which is a primary factor behind these trends. 

Mohy Tabbara 

Last year, the households were not eligible to receive income replacement pandemic supports from the federal government such as the CERB. However, they did have access to more modest supports. In 2020, the GST/HST credit top-up provided between $290 and $890. And the Canada Child Benefit top-up provided $300 per child for the households with children. In 2021 households no longer had access to these supports. The federal government only provided one pandemic-related benefit, the Canada Child Benefit Young Child Supplement, which was $1,200 per child. And in our methodology, only the single parent and one child households received it.  

As for provincial and territorial governments, only six provided pandemic supports in 2020. In 2021, it went down to two. Only BC and the Northwest Territories still provided pandemic supports. BC provided between $950 and $1,900. And the Northwest Territories provided between $175 and $570. And this is for the whole year. The other 11 jurisdictions did not provide any additional pandemic-related supports. 

This graph shows the change in the amount of pandemic-related payments that were available in 2020 versus 2021. As we can see, only single parent households in ten jurisdictions, which are the very short blue lines at the top, received more money in pandemic-related payments in 2021 than they did in 2020. The main point here is that the pandemic-related supports impacted incomes positively in 2020, and people still needed these supports in 2021 to deal with the additional costs associated with the pandemic. But in the vast majority of cases, they were no longer available or weren’t as much as they had been, this undoubtedly had a negative impact on their quality of life. The numbers we’ve looked at so far don’t tell us whether incomes in 2021 were adequate for people to live out of poverty. So we’ll look at our analysis of adequacy next. 

Jennefer Laidley 

Right, so how do we define adequacy? Well, in 2018, the federal government chose the Market Basket Measure as Canada’s official poverty line. It’s one of four thresholds that we use in Welfare in Canada to look at adequacy. We also use the deep income poverty threshold, which is 75 per cent of the Market Basket Measure. And at 75 per cent of the MBM, a household basically has no disposable income and would struggle to afford basic necessities like food and shelter.  

For the provinces, we also look at the low income measure and the low-income cutoff. And we’re not going to talk about those here today, but the analysis is in the report. In the next few slides, we’re going to focus on the official poverty line, the MBM, and the deep income poverty threshold. Now, the MBM is a regional measure, so we use the MBM of the largest city in a jurisdiction, for example, Calgary in Alberta. This is because the cost of living can vary greatly even within a jurisdiction. And for the Northwest Territories in Yukon, as I mentioned earlier, we’re using the newly released Northern MBM. 

Mohy Tabbara 

So in the next four graphs, the black lines are the official poverty line or the Market Basket Measure. And the gray dotted lines are the deep income poverty thresholds. In this first graph, the red bars are the welfare incomes of unattached singles considered employable in each province. As you can see, not one single income crosses the black line. So all unattached singles considered employable were living in poverty. More starkly, no income even comes close to the gray line, so they were all living in deep poverty. In Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in particular, incomes are less than half the deep income poverty threshold. For the unattached singles with disabilities, the official poverty lines and deep income party thresholds are the same as those for the unattached singles considered the employable, but the additional cost of living for a person with disability is not factored into the MBM, so poverty here may be underrepresented. 

Only two households cross the deep income poverty line, which are in Alberta for those who receive AISH and in Newfoundland and Labrador. But in both cases, they are still far from the poverty line. For three provinces the gap below the deep income poverty line is very significant, and that is for Alberta, for those who receive BFE as well as Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Here’s the same graph for the single parent with one child households. None of the single parent incomes were above the poverty line in 2021. Half were in deep poverty, and the other half were above the deep poverty line, but still in poverty.  

And lastly, here’s the same graph for the couple with two children households. All of these households were also living in poverty in 2021, eight were in deep poverty, and four were above the deep poverty, but still in poverty. Overall, it appears that the incomes of households with children are slightly more adequate than those of unattached singles, but they’re still very inadequate, even with the higher level of support from federal and provincial or territorial child benefits. 

So when we look at the adequacy of these incomes, it’s clear that governments need to do much more. Significant investments will have to be made to guarantee an adequate standard of living and a life of dignity for all households who receive social assistance. 

Jennefer Laidley 

So another analysis that we provide in the report is how adequate total welfare incomes have been over the last 20 years. And we do this for all households, but of course only in the provinces. Here are four examples of the adequacy-over-time graphs for four unattached single households, and we’ve got here Alberta, Ontario, PEI and Quebec. And you’ll see these vertical broken lines which indicate two breaks in the data. This is when the Market Basket Measure was what they call rebased. That is Statistics Canada did a complete review of the methodology and updated the measure to better reflect contemporary patterns of consumption. 

So as you can see from these graphs, while there have been some periods of relative stasis and some fluctuations, generally from 2002 to 2021, there’s been very little improvement and in fact some real losses in terms of deepening poverty over those 20 years, with a few exceptions like Prince Edward Island, where lately there have been moves being made in the right direction. I’d encourage you to have a closer look at these adequacy over time graphs in the report to see what the trends look like for all the households in all the provinces. 

Mohy Tabbara 

As we mentioned in the introduction, Statistics Canada made the Northern Basket measure thresholds available earlier this month. This finally allows us to assess the adequacy of welfare incomes in the Northwest Territories in Yukon. An MBM is still being produced for Nunavut, and we will include it in future reports once it becomes available. As in the previous graphs, the black lines are the official poverty line, or in this case the Northern Market Basket Measure. And the gray dotted lines are the deep income poverty thresholds, which are 75 per cent of the Northern Market Basket Measure. Here we include all the households in the Northwest Territories and Yukon. Overall, it appears that incomes are much more adequate than in the provinces. With seven of the eight households living above the deep income poverty threshold, only the unattached single considered employable in Yukon lives in deep poverty. However, seven of the eight are also below the official poverty line. So there is still some work to do to make welfare incomes adequate in the territories. 

One household lives above the poverty line, the unattached single with the disability in the Northwest Territories. It is the only household in the entire report to reach this bar. However, it is worth remembering that the MBM does not account for the additional cost of living with a disability, so the poverty here may be underrepresented. And now that they have this measure, we hope territories can respond to address inadequacy. They now have a bar to reach. 

Jennefer Laidley 

So we’ve come to the end of the briefing. And with all of these graphs and all of the data and information, we want to leave you with these thoughts. People receiving social assistance in the provinces and territories were once again living with deeply inadequate incomes below poverty and deep poverty levels in 2021. And inadequacy has been a hallmark of welfare incomes for a very long time. However, this inadequacy is not inevitable. It’s a policy choice made by governments who can and must choose another path. Now, in terms of what the provincial and territorial governments could do, first they could invest in higher basic social assistance benefits for all households and particularly for unattached singles who have very few other sources of income from government benefits and credits. As well, they could increase tax-delivered benefits and credits, including child benefits where those exist and create them where they do not. And third, the provinces and territories could index social assistance and other benefits and credits to inflation where they aren’t already. 

Mohy Tabbara 

And as far as the federal government, there’s a number of things that they can do. First, pass the Canada Disability Benefit Legislation and implement this important benefit, the CDB should be structured to not require any labour attachment and to supplement social assistance to reduce, if not eliminate, inadequacy. Second, address the longstanding deep poverty of unattached singles by implementing the Canada Working-Age Supplement or CWAS. So this is a proposal by Maytree and the Community Food Centers of Canada, which would enhance the existing Canada Workers Benefit to increase welfare incomes by up to $3,000. Third, the federal government could invest in the Canada Child Benefit to further reduce child poverty. And there are many organizations who have forwarded specific proposals on how this should best be done. And last but not least, to increase the Canada Social Transfer to provide more funds to increase social assistance benefits and create agreements with the provinces and territories to ensure those funds are spent on those increases. These measures are urgent and necessary. We must prioritize the dignity of all members in our society and ensure that everyone in Canada has an adequate standard of living. 

Jennefer Laidley 

So thank you very much for attending the briefing and webinar. We are going to be releasing a policy brief in the next week or so that highlights some of the points that we’ve made in this briefing, but it also provides some other analysis as well. So for those of you who have subscribed to the Maytree newsletter, you’ll find that in your inboxes. If you haven’t subscribed, please do go to the Maytree website to do that and be sure to download the report if you haven’t already. We hope that you can use it in your work. And thank you again for your interest and attention. And again, thank you to our jurisdictional contacts for their very appreciated assistance. We look forward to your questions and the discussion. And now back to Garima. 

Garima Talwar Kapoor 

Okay, thank you Jennefer and Mohy. That was a whirlwind for folks listening in. There’s been a lot of questions and chat happening. That was a 20-minute-long presentation with a lot of data. And so given some of the questions that are coming up, highly recommend and encourage people to check out the report on our website for further information. For the next 15-ish minutes, we’ll start with the moderated Q and A, but also encourage you all to please share your questions using the Q and A function so that we can clearly see the questions that are coming in. All right, Jennefer and Mohy, the first question on my end is, you’ve been working on this report for upwards of a year, and as you’ve been working on this report, what was the most striking finding or result in your view? Jennefer, do you want to start and then we’ll go to Mohy? 

Jennefer Laidley 

Well, a couple of things. First, I think I’m always struck by just how low welfare incomes are. We’ve been talking about the exploding cost of housing for many years in Canada. Here where I live, it’s almost a daily point of conversation how hard it is to find affordable housing. And we know that that’s the case right across this country. And the rising cost of food is hitting everybody in the pocketbook. So I often think about how all of the numbers in the report represent the reality of actual real people all across the country who are struggling to make it from day to day.  

I’m also struck by the adequacy-over-time analysis because what that means is that things have really changed very little for the majority of people over the past 20 years in most instances in terms of the depth of poverty that they live in. 

So what that means is that the crisis in the cost of living that a lot of us are feeling right now is something that people who receive social assistance have been living with for many years, and it’s just going to get worse. I’m going to start gathering the data for the 2022 edition of Welfare in Canada very soon. And I’m really not looking forward to the analysis of how inflation is impacting on incomes. But it doesn’t have to be that way. 

I’m buoyed by, and I’m struck by, the fact that there are some jurisdictions that are really trying to make headway by increasing social assistance benefit amounts. PEI and Nova Scotia spring to mind as we talked about in the presentation, but also British Columbia and the two provinces and one territory that index benefits to inflation. So there are strides that are being made. Governments across the country are investing where they should in some instances. But everyone is still living in poverty as the report clearly shows. 

Mohy Tabbara 

I agree with Jennefer. I was also struck by what she referred to earlier as the double whammy of the loss of pandemic supports and higher inflation. And almost all households were impacted by either one or the other, if not both. Only six saw meaningful increases this year.  

I think the other thing too is 2020 in a way falsely made us believe that we were doing better because there was such a positive improvement. But a lot of the supports that came last year were temporary and also inflation was very low. And so it masked the reduction in value in the amounts. So it’s a bit unfortunate that the census data we have is for 2020, and that’s sort of the measure that we’re going to be compared against.  

But also, as Jennefer said, it’s not all doom and gloom. And I think it’s worth keeping that in mind that some jurisdictions are doing better. And it does give me a glimmer of hope that progress is possible, although there has to be a lot more done, hopefully. 

Garima Talwar Kapoor 

Excellent. Thank you so much. I will say that the baseline is low. And so when we measure progress, we’re starting from a really low baseline. And I guess that segues into my next question. And Jennefer, you touched on this a little bit. This is a huge comparative analysis undertaking. And as you’re assessing different programs across provinces and territories, what strikes you or what comes across your mind as some similarities between the 53 programs and what are some differences that we ought to think about in a country such as ours? 

Jennefer Laidley 

Most of the programs are structured in essentially the same way. And we don’t really get into the similarities and differences in the actual programs in the report other than the benefit structure information that we’re providing this year. But one thing that’s really interesting for me to think about is how many jurisdictions are moving, or starting to move, to an assured income model for benefits for people with disabilities. And I’ve been wanting to have a closer look at this for a couple of years now. I’m hoping that maybe we can do that in this next report. But the idea here is that these programs recognize that people with disabilities have particular circumstances that other folks don’t have. And so they provide higher benefit amounts. 

And this is great for those people who otherwise would be living in a greater depth of poverty. But the trick with these programs is that firstly, these total incomes from these programs are better, but they’re still below the poverty line. And second, the definition of disability in these programs, which you have to meet in order to be eligible is usually much stricter than in other programs. So fewer people actually have access to these higher benefit levels. And this has a particular impact on people who don’t meet that test of disability. So folks whose disabilities might be transient or episodic or in some instances just not as visible as other kinds of disabilities, proving that you’re sort of disabled enough to qualify can be pretty onerous. 

And this gets into a bit of a discussion about the Canada Disability Benefit, which so many folks have been working on and have hope for because the trick with whatever the federal government comes up with in terms of eligibility criteria is going to be very important. We can’t have another program like the Disability Tax Credit that’s only available to so few people. The Canada Disability Benefit, many of us are looking to that as being able to do some of the heavy lifting that’s going to help all people with disabilities who receive social assistance get out from under the poverty that they experience. So the issues around disability and programs is a real interest of mine. 

Mohy Tabbara 

To add onto that, in the report we have four appendices and I think they do a relatively good job of comparing the structure and some of the delivery of social assistance across the jurisdiction. So for example, are basic and shelter amounts provided together or separately? What additional supports are available, et cetera? So I think if you’re interested, you can look at that and it’ll give you a picture of what this looks like.  

One aspect that I appreciate in some social assistance programs is that there’s a pragmatism in indexing benefits or paying the real costs associated to certain either services or goods. And I wish that more jurisdictions would do that, because right now there’s only three who index social assistance. 

The other thing too that’s similar and I think unfortunate is that with very few exceptions, the incentive to work is built into social assistance across the country. And I think this is a problem and for many reasons. I think the first one is that for a lot of people there are barriers to work, whether it’s related to health or family responsibilities or even some people have criminal records or they have a much larger barrier to enter the labour force. And I think we have to accept that not all working-age people can work. And with that in mind, the support should be adequate enough that even if they can’t work and they don’t have someone to support them, they can live a life of dignity. 

And the other thing too is that if we want to incentivize people to work, we have to put them in a condition to be able to seek employment. And when you live in such deep levels of poverty, it’s difficult because for many of these households, they can barely afford to pay for their housing and their food, let alone transportation to go to work or buying clothes appropriate for work, et cetera. So we have to give people the conditions to be able to seek employment if that’s something that they can or that they want to do. And I wish this was built into social assistance a bit better. 

And the other thing that’s similar is unfortunately welfare incomes are inadequate everywhere. And some are doing a bit better and I think it’s important to recognize that, but they all have room for improvement. And lastly, I should note that we only look at income when it comes to social assistance, but social assistance is much more than that. There’s also in-kind benefits and more specific delivery models that we don’t include in this report, but that some of them are similar or different across the country. 

Garima Talwar Kapoor 

Great. Thanks so much. The chat and the Q and A is starting to go, and so I’d like to get to those questions. And as a segue into some of the questions around adequacy, especially in Toronto now the cost of a market housing one bedroom is $2,500, which is triple the OW amount and more than double the ODSP amount. And most people receiving social assistance live in market housing. So that’s important to remember. We are passing through a pandemic, have passed the emergency phase and the analysis that you’ve presented focuses on changes from 2020 to 2021. I’m wondering if you could speak to how adequacy might have changed since 2019, so pre-pandemic times. And if you have a comment on what we might have learned from the pandemic and what we have to show for it.  

Jennefer Laidley 

So it’s an interesting comparison, but there are a couple of things here. So comparing 2021 to 2019, it’s still a bit of an apples and oranges comparison because there was still some pandemic-related benefits in 2021. So a better comparison might be to look at 2019 in 2022, because I don’t think there were any pandemic-related benefits in 2022, but we’ll know soon enough. But the big caveat of course is that inflation was a lot higher in 2022. So the constant dollar comparisons are going to show even more declines in 2022, likely. But looking at the comparison with 2019, in most instances, I looked at a couple of things. 

Total welfare incomes in constant dollars. In most instances there was not much change. So about 70 per cent either declined slightly or stayed the same or had a slight increase. But there were significant increases between 2019 and 2021 in 15 instances. BC, all households, PEI, all households, Nova Scotia households with children, Saskatchewan households except the unattached single with a disability and a couple of other instances. And in the adequacy comparisons, as well, this is only for the provinces because we don’t have adequacy-over-time analysis for the territories. But of the 41 households in the provinces, adequacy stayed the same or only slightly improved in about 50 per cent of the households. And it actually declined in 17 per cent of the households, but it did improve fairly significantly in 32 per cent of the households. So about a third of folks did better in 2021 over 2019, which isn’t great. What this means is that, as you say, did we learn anything? I don’t know that we did frankly. 

In terms of this notion of “building back better,” we haven’t really made the investments that we need to make in order to ensure that everyone is better off. Looking at 2021, it might be a bit too early to tell, but there’s not been nearly enough movement between 2019 and 2021 in terms of improving adequacy. 

Mohy Tabbara 

Just to add to that, to me, I think it’s a positive that some jurisdictions sought a long-term improvement as opposed to a one-time support during the pandemic. Because in a lot of the cases where there were one-time supports and then they were taken away, it’s a bit unfortunate because you see that their situation improves even if slightly in 2020, but then it’s taken away from them in 2021 and they’re worse off. And it’s not like suddenly the cost of everything is lower in 2021. It’s the opposite in many ways. So it would be ideal if a lot of the supports that came in 2020 became permanent because people who live in deep poverty, the emergency’s every day, it’s not just during a pandemic and it’s still ongoing for them. And so I hope it’s something that is considered to increase supports, whether it’s federal or provincial, territorial. 

Garima Talwar Kapoor 

Okay, thank you so much. So I’ve been trying to keep my eye on chat that is every evolving and the Qs and As, and I’m going to try to blend both. The first has to do with measurement and some people’s eyes might glaze over, but I think it’s actually really important. One of the questions has to do with, well, Statistics Canada`s poverty dimensions hub indicates that poverty is decreasing over time. Your analysis is showing a relative stasis, if not general decrease in adequacy in social assistance. And so if you could help folks square the two in terms of the two different data and what fuller picture does the data tell, and more generally a question around how we measure adequacy and things that we might need to take into account as we think about what it means to live a life with dignity. Is it only one of income? Is it one in which we also think of services and the regulatory nature around how we control the cost of housing, for example? So there’s many different threads in there from measurement to questions around GBI and more broadly what it means to live a life with dignity. And so Jennefer, I’m going to put you in the hot seat first. 

Jennefer Laidley 

So it’s interesting to hear that about the poverty dimensions hub, and I’d have to take a look at that methodology that they’re looking at. But I’m assuming that that’s overall poverty rates. And what we’re looking at specifically is social assistance poverty, poverty that exists for people who are receiving social assistance. So there may be poverty declining amongst people who have employment incomes, but the example households that we look at, the assumption is that they don’t have any employment income. So this is just government transfers in terms of sources of income. So is there anything more to say about that? I don’t know. I think that the point here is that there’s no progress being made on adequacy in terms of the incomes of people on social assistance. And in some instances it’s declining. In some few instances it’s improving, but not by much. 

And the depth of poverty in this instance in terms of what we’re looking at is I think critical because there’s a big gap between social assistance, total incomes and total welfare incomes and those poverty thresholds.  

The second question is around living a life of dignity. That’s a really good question and a really good point. Every time in our presentation I was talking about how we measure adequacy, the measure that we look at is a pretty low bar, looking at the poverty line in terms of income. Looking at the poverty line as a measure of adequacy seems to me to be insufficient in terms of looking at what people actually need in order to live a life of dignity. And that points to some of our colleagues are working on things like the living wage, for example. The living wage is above the poverty line.  

We don’t have a threshold that says, here’s the dignity threshold. Maybe that needs to be created by someone. 

And the point about additional services and benefits is a really good one. If there were another research project to do, it would be interesting to look at what those are across the country and all of the different programs. It’s not something that’s in the scope of Welfare in Canada, but looking at what people receive from social assistance programs in terms of assistance with other issues that they face would be really helpful, I think. Because it’s true. If, for example, you’re living in subsidized housing by virtue of the fact that you are on social assistance, which I think happens in no instances, that makes a big difference in your quality of life, right? 

Garima Talwar Kapoor 

Absolutely. Thanks Jennefer. Mohy? 

Mohy Tabbara 

Okay. So a lot of different aspects, but I think if I can start with the Statistics Canada, I feel like it’s still hard to really grasp the poverty rate right now, especially given the pandemic supports and how that impacted people positively or negatively. And from what I understand, I know that the poverty went down significantly in 2020, but in 2021 it went back up in part from I understand. And I think that’s indicative of the loss of these pandemic supports, which helped a lot of people. And I think it shows you that when people are well-supported, that’s how you reduce poverty. 

In terms of measuring adequacy, I know that there are some criticisms on the adequacy measures on do they actually measure what they’re supposed to measure, especially in terms of housing. Usually the amount is lower than market housing. That’s a methodological distinction. And it’s possible to do, as Jennefer said, a higher bar for what poverty is. Because living the life with dignity is a semantic question. What does it mean to live a life with dignity? And I think there’s room for debate on that. 

In terms of the income versus service, I think that that’s one of the benefits of social assistance that we often — maybe not people right here, but more generally — that people sometimes forget is that social assistance does come with a number of services and they vary across the country. But in some cases the service is probably much more useful than just money. So for example, if you’re covered for drugs, as in medicine, then the cost of that on your own pocket can vary greatly throughout the years. Maybe you have a sudden illness, if you have to pay for that out of pocket and the amount is built into social assistance, then you will suddenly be much worse off. Whereas if it’s provided as a service or as a benefit, then you know you’re covered and it doesn’t impact your income. 

So I think when we look at poverty and reducing poverty, we really need a larger picture of beyond just income. And when we talk about solutions, to not quickly dismiss social assistance because what we’re losing with social assistance isn’t just the income, but also all the services that come with that. And if we were to replace it or to make something bigger, then we also need to account for those services. 

Jennefer Laidley 

That’s a really important point that’s often overlooked in the discussion around how we fight the poverty that people experience on social assistance. But it doesn’t have to be an either or, right? If we were to move to a program that provided much higher benefits and it was available to a much larger pool of people, what we might very well lose is all of those additional services that people rely on so much. 

Garima Talwar Kapoor 

Absolutely. And I think that this is a live issue right now around discussions on the Canada Disability Benefit. What is the total level of income support that’s provided through the CDB? Does it stack on top of other income supports like social assistance disability programs? Does it replace? And if it’s the latter, what do we stand to lose? I think that there’s a general comment and general feeling that income supports without the rest of the social safety net that helps us live a life with dignity are necessary. And so we’ve seen, somebody asked earlier about how has Maytree been working with labour market and training organizations. And there’s a huge shift in Ontario led by BC where the ways in which we deliver these services has been dissipating and waning. And now on the social services side, if we think about housing, again, the cost of market housing prevents anybody who receives social assistance to be securely housed. 

And now we’ve got a comment on healthcare, which used to be the catch-all for everyone. You could go to the ED if you needed to go. And now that is missing. And so again, in trying to bring together all of the threads and actually a piece of information that a colleague who is here, but I won’t name unless they’d like me to name them, noted that in the federal government, the federal government spends more on seniors benefits than it does on the Canada Health Transfer and Canada Social Transfer combined. And that gap is going to continue to grow. And so this is perhaps an unfair question, but I think gets to the nub of the various discussion points and questions that have been coming through is that if it’s not income or services and it’s income and services, I guess the question that is missing then is what is the regulatory framework within which we need to operate? And so do you have a sense at least from a housing or employment side, some of the non-investment things that governments can do to help secure people’s livelihoods? 

Mohy Tabbara 

So by regulatory do you mean what programs or the tax system? 

Garima Talwar Kapoor 

Yeah. What comes to mind is often rent control, right? What is the purpose of increased income supports if rents are increasing 20 per cent year-over-year, things like that. 

Mohy Tabbara 

Yeah. I agree rent control is important and I’m sure that some people have made comparisons in terms of cities that have rent control and those that don’t, and how people fare in the long term. I think indexing is also very important just to make sure that what people are receiving doesn’t decrease in value over time. And I know that this year New Brunswick indexed social assistance, which is really fantastic, and I hope that others will do that. Quebec’s been doing it longer, and I’m sure it’s been very helpful for the people who live there. 

I think going back to the premise of the question, when we talk about seniors versus et cetera, I think it’s great that politicians have focused on seniors because we need to make sure that our elders live a life with dignity. And in many ways we feel like we’ve solved seniors poverty, but I don’t think that that’s the case at all. And there is even more investment to be made for seniors especially. And as you say, Garima, it’s very holistic. So one thing that we talk about with seniors, for example, is in-home supports, which are greatly lacking across the country. And that’s not an income support, but it’s something that would increase their quality of life beyond just income. 

For singles, the amount that they receive are so small that they really do need income supports even beyond just services. Because if you can’t afford rent and food, having access to free haircuts, it’s good, but you need to cover the very basic needs of a person. And we’re not even there yet. So I hope that is something that’s taken into consideration going forward. 

Jennefer Laidley 

Well, I’m going to go out on a limb a little bit here and address a couple of things that I think are elephants in the room, and one is the fiscal capacity of governments. For the last 40 years, we’ve seen governments reducing their own fiscal capacity in the name of an economic efficiency that really hasn’t resulted from those policies. And I’m talking about tax cuts. I’m talking about the fact that there’s not enough money in the kitty to be paying for everything that needs to be paid for. And we can shuffle the money around in various ways to prioritize this issue over this issue within the course of a four-year term. But governments need to look at the broader picture and the longer term issues. 

They need to look at being less worried about credit and more worried about well-being. And in order to do that, they really need to address the issue of who’s paying for what and how much all of us are contributing to the greater good of our larger society. And who’s not paying the bill and they need to take action to ensure that those folks are paying the bill.  

We know very clearly that income inequality is not just bad for those who are experiencing it. It’s bad for all of us. Greater income inequality leads to all kinds of worse outcomes, not just for those folks, but for all of us. So getting back to a notion of broader societal well-being through collective investment by governments, I think is a really, really important conversation to have and an important perspective that we all need to be advocating for. 

Garima Talwar Kapoor 

Absolutely. I am mindful of the time, and so if I could ask you in 30 seconds or less to provide your key takeaways on things that you think folks should pay attention to coming out from the report or this conversation. Mohy, let’s go to you first and then Jennefer. 

Mohy Tabbara 

So in the presentation we mentioned some of the takeaways and it’s that there are things coming up in terms of what can be done. And I hope that as a sector we can work together to make them happen. And 2022, that report is coming up next year and as we know, inflation is very high. So I worry about those results, but hopefully we learn lessons from this and we’re able to do better. 

Jennefer Laidley 

I guess my key takeaway is for folks to remember that this is not inevitable. We’ve been looking at a 20-year time-span of adequacy in the provinces and the picture’s not great. The picture in terms of poverty right now in 2021, depth of poverty is not great, but it’s not inevitable. But it takes all of us to make change. So I would just advocate for advocacy. I would advocate for advocacy and activism to encourage and push governments to make the investments that need to be made in order to make the kind of change that we need to see. 

Garima Talwar Kapoor 

Absolutely. Thank you so much, both Jennefer and Mohy for your insightful presentation, all of your hard work and dedication and for answering some really, really tough and challenging questions that our audience and participants have posed today. Thank you so much to everyone for joining us today. This would not be possible without your support.  

 

Topic(s)

Income security

Summary

Recording of the Welfare in Canada, 2021 launch event highlighting the report’s key findings