Social Assistance Summaries

Last updated: July 2022

The Social Assistance Summaries series tracks the number of recipients of social assistance (welfare payments) in each province and territory.

For the total incomes available to those relying on social assistance, visit the Welfare in Canada report.

Program details

Social assistance is the income program of last resort. It is intended for those who have exhausted all other means of financial support. Every province and territory has its own social assistance program(s), and no two are the same.

In Alberta, there are two social assistance programs:

  1. Alberta Supports; and
  2. Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped.

Alberta Supports (formerly Alberta Works)

Alberta Supports helps unemployed people to find and keep jobs, employers to meet their need for skilled workers, and Albertans with low incomes to cover their basic costs of living. There are four components to Alberta Supports:

  1. Employment and Training Services – help to find employment, take training, or plan a new career;
  2. Income Support – money to meet basic needs;
  3. Child Support Services – free service to get child support agreements or court orders; and
  4. Health Benefits – supplementary health coverage.

The caseload and beneficiary data below refers to those receiving the Income Support component of Alberta Supports. There are four channels through which Albertans can qualify for Income Support:

  1. Barriers to Full Employment – for those who cannot work due to chronic health problems or other barriers to employment;
  2. Expected to Work – for those looking for work, working but not earning enough, or temporarily unable to work;
  3. Learners – for those who need training so they can get a job;
  4. Emergency Allowance – for those with an unexpected, one-time emergency through no fault of their own (e.g., sudden eviction due to fire).

Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH)

The AISH program provides financial and health-related assistance to eligible adult Albertans with a disability. To be eligible for AISH, individuals must have a mental or physical impairment that causes substantial limitation in their ability to earn a livelihood, and is likely to affect them permanently. They must also meet criteria for income, assets, age, and residency.


How many people claim social assistance?

Alberta Supports

Between March 2020 and March 2021, the number of cases (families and single adults) in the Alberta Supports program fell by almost 30 per cent to around 43,600. The previous year, it had reached the highest it has been since 1997 — just under 61,400. Previously, cases had increased yearly from March 2014 to March 2020.

Overall, about 77,700 people (individual claimants, their partners, and dependent children) benefited from Alberta Supports in March 2021.

Figure 1AB – Yearly cases and beneficiaries of Alberta Supports, 1997 to 2021

Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH)

In March 2021, there were almost 70,000 cases in Alberta’s AISH program. The number of cases has been rising steadily over the last two decades, although the increase was notably smaller in 2021.

Figure 2AB – Yearly cases of Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) in Alberta, 1997 to 2021

What proportion of the population receives social assistance?

In March 2021, under 3.8 per cent of people in Alberta under 65 received Alberta Supports or AISH, which is about 1 in 26. The proportion of recipients receiving social assistance has followed a similar pattern as the total number of recipients.

The proportion of people under 65 receiving AISH has increased consistently since 1997, reaching a high of 1.8 per cent in both March 2020 and March 2021.

The proportion of Alberta Supports beneficiaries decreased gradually until March 2008, followed by a period of fluctuation between 1.5 per cent and 2.5 per cent from March 2002 to March 2017, and reaching a peak once again in March 2020 at 2.7 per cent. In March 2021, the proportion of Alberta Supports recipients declined for the first time in seven years, reaching 2 per cent.

Note: The total population under 65 is estimated on July 1 of a given year, whereas social assistance beneficiary data is for March 31 of a given year.

Figure 3AB – Yearly beneficiaries of Alberta Supports and cases of AISH as a proportion of the under-65 Alberta population, 1997 to 2021

Who is receiving social assistance?

In March 2021, unattached singles comprised the majority of cases among households for both Alberta Supports and AISH, with 66 per cent and 86 per cent, respectively. For Alberta Supports, single parent households comprise the highest proportion of beneficiaries, with over 44 per cent, followed by unattached singles, with 37 per cent.

Females made up the majority of Alberta Supports beneficiaries in March 2021, with almost 63 per cent. However, males made up the majority of AISH cases, with 53 per cent.

Alberta Supports (formerly Alberta Works)

Figure 4AB – Cases and beneficiaries of Alberta Supports by household, 2021

Figure 5AB – Beneficiaries of Alberta Supports by gender, 2021

Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH)

Figure 6AB – Cases of Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) by household, 2021

Figure 7AB – Cases of Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) by gender, 2021


Figure 8AB – Yearly social assistance data for Alberta, 1997 to 2021

Figure 9AB – Social assistance data by household for Alberta, 2021

Figure 10AB – Social assistance data by gender for Alberta, 2021

Data notes

  • Alberta Supports (formerly Alberta Works) was implemented in 2004. The data for 2003 and earlier is for its predecessor, the Supports for Independence program.
  • The data reflects the number of cases and beneficiaries on March 31 of each year.
  • Alberta Supports figures do not include First Nations living on reserves. AISH figures include First Nations living on reserves.
  • Figures for 1997 to 2007 are drawn from the 2008 and 2009-13 Social Assistance Statistical Reports with figures rounded to 100s. Figures for 2008 onwards are the actual numbers supplied by Alberta Community and Social Services.