Social Assistance Summaries


Last updated: June 2021

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:

  • Alberta Supports
  • Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped

Alberta Supports

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
  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 (formerly Alberta Works)

In March 2020, the number of cases (families and single adults) in the Alberta Supports program reached just under 61,400, the highest it has been since 1997. Between March 2019 and March 2020, the number of cases rose by 800, which is smaller than the previous year’s increase of 3,300, and much smaller than the annual increase of 10,000 between 2015 and 2017.Overall, about 104,700 people (individual claimants, their partners, and dependent children) benefited from Alberta Supports in March 2020.

Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH)

In March 2020, there were almost 69,000 cases in Alberta’s AISH program. The number of cases has been rising steadily over the last two decades.

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.