Social Assistance Summaries

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.

Last updated: June 2021

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, and 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 eligibility 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. No Employment-related Obligations – for numerous reasons (e.g., for single parents with a child under 3 and seniors)
  4. Persons with Persistent Multiple Barriers – for individuals with long-term barriers to employment that are not expected to be overcome in the short term

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 just over 155,100 cases (families and single adults) in British Columbia’s social assistance program during 2019-20. Around 29 per cent (45,214) received Income Assistance (also known as Temporary Assistance) and 71 per cent (109,919) received Disability Assistance. The total number of social assistance cases increased by about 7,100 in 2019-20. For the first time in ten years, the increase was split between the two programs, and did not strictly come from a rise in the number receiving Disability Assistance.

Income Assistance

For the first time since 2010-11, the average number of Income Assistance cases and beneficiaries saw a substantive increase in British Columbia. In 2020-21, the number of Income Assistance cases rose by about 2,400 to reach just over 45,200, and the number of beneficiaries rose by about 3,200 to reach almost 71,000.

The number of Income Assistance cases and beneficiaries fell substantially in the late 1990s and early 2000s and then rose in the late-2000s following the recession. These numbers are lower than the post-recession peak of 2010-11 but remain higher than the pre-recession low in 2006-07.

Figure 1BC – Yearly cases and beneficiaries of Income Assistance in British Columbia, 1996 to 2020


Disability Assistance

In 2019-20, there was an average of about 109,900 cases in British Columbia’s Disability Assistance program, and just over 133,100 beneficiaries (individual claimants, their partners, and dependent children). Both numbers have been steadily rising over the last two decades.

Figure 2BC – Yearly cases and beneficiaries of Disability Assistance in British Columbia, 1996 to 2020


Figure 3BC – Yearly social assistance data for British Columbia, 1996 to 2020


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