Social Assistance Summaries

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

British Columbia

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 British Columbia, basic support and shelter benefits are provided through the British Columbia Employment and Assistance (BCEA) program.

BCEA clients are divided into two main streams of assistance:

  1. Income Assistance (also called Temporary Assistance)
  2. Disability Assistance

Those who are not eligible for income or disability assistance may be able to access support for essential costs through BCEA Hardship Assistance, such as those awaiting other income or benefits like Employment Insurance or those completing the work search required to receive regular assistance. Hardship assistance is provided on a temporary basis for one month at a time.

Income Assistance

Income Assistance consists of a support allowance and a shelter allowance. The support allowance is intended to cover the cost of food, clothing, personal, and household items of the family. The shelter allowance is intended to pay for actual shelter costs (up to a maximum amount). The maximum amount of support allowance and shelter allowance available varies by family size.

In order to be eligible for Income Assistance, applicants must meet income requirements and fit the criteria of one of four groups:

  1. Expected to Work – for employable individuals
  2. Expected to Work Medical Condition – for employable individuals with short-term medical issues
  3. Temporarily Excused – for single parents with a child under 3 and seniors
  4. Persons with Persistent Multiple Barriers – for individuals with a medical condition that precludes or impedes employment

Disability Assistance

The Disability Assistance stream of BCEA recognizes that people with disabilities may require additional supports in order to meet the challenges of daily living through a higher assistance rate, supplementary assistance, and specialized employment supports.

The BC Employment and Assistance for Persons with Disabilities Act defines a person with disabilities as an individual who is at least 18 years of age, with a severe physical or mental impairment that is expected to continue for at least two years, and who:

  • is significantly restricted in his or her ability to perform daily living activities
  • requires assistance with daily living activities

This includes individuals with episodic illnesses that restrict daily living activities continuously or periodically for extended periods.

Once individuals qualify for Disability Assistance, they keep their Persons with Disabilities designation after they leave assistance (for employment or other income support programs) and may maintain their medical assistance.

BCEA Supplements

Along with assistance for everyday living and shelter costs, recipients may also qualify for General Supplements and Health Supplements through BCEA. These are intended to offset certain additional costs that some families face (such as the extra costs associated with a child’s schooling or the transportation costs associated with essential medical treatment).

How many people claim social assistance?

On average, there were 142,600 cases (families and single adults) in British Columbia’s social assistance program during 2016/17. Around a third (44,900) received Income Assistance (also known as Temporary Assistance) and two-thirds (97,700) received Disability Assistance. The number of cases of both forms of social assistance was slightly higher than in 2015/16.

Income Assistance

In 2016/17, the average number of Income Assistance cases and beneficiaries rose for the first time since 2010/11. At 44,900 cases and 70,200 beneficiaries in 2016/17, the number was slighter higher than the year before, but remained below the 2010/11 peak of 58,200 and 88,700 and a lot lower than the levels seen in the mid-1990s.



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Disability Assistance

In 2016/17, there was an average of 97,700 cases in British Columbia’s Disability Assistance program, and 117,000 beneficiaries (individual claimants, their partners, and dependent children). Both numbers have been steadily rising over the last two decades.



Download the data in a spreadsheet

British Columbia data

Data notes

  • The data reflects the average number of cases and beneficiaries over the fiscal year (April 1 to March 31)
  • The numbers do not include First Nations living on reserves
  • Click here for more information about how the data is gathered
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