Social Assistance Summaries

British Columbia

Last updated: April 2023

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 households 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, which is both income- and asset-tested.

BCEA clients are divided into two main streams of assistance:

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

Those who are not eligible for Income or Disability Assistance, such as those awaiting income, or those completing the work search required to receive regular assistance, may be able to access support for essential needs through BCEA Hardship 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. Families are guaranteed a minimum shelter allowance and can receive up to a maximum amount based on their costs. The maximum amount of support allowance and the minimum/maximum shelter allowances available vary by family size.

To be eligible for Income Assistance, applicants must meet eligibility requirements and fit the criteria of one of four groups:

  1. Expected to Work: employable individuals;
  2. Expected to Work Temporary Medical Condition: employable individuals with short-term medical issues;
  3. No Employment-related Obligations: numerous categories (e.g., single parents with a child under three, seniors); and
  4. Persons with Persistent Multiple Barriers: individuals with long-term health conditions and an additional barrier that seriously impedes their ability to search for, accept, or continue in employment.

Disability Assistance

The Disability Assistance stream of BCEA recognizes that Persons with Disabilities (PWD) may require additional supports to meet the challenges of daily living through a higher assistance rate, an annual earnings exemption, supplementary assistance, and specialized employment supports.

The BC Employment and Assistance for Persons with Disabilities Act defines PWD 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 their ability to perform daily living activities; and
  • Requires assistance with daily living activities.

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

The BC Employment and Assistance for Persons with Disabilities Act also allows individuals approved for another prescribed government program or benefit (e.g., Canada Pension Plan Disability Benefit) to be designated as a PWD without going through the standard application process.

Once individuals qualify for Disability Assistance, they keep their PWD 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 under 162,700 cases (family units and unattached single adults) in British Columbia’s social assistance programs during 2021-22.

Twenty-nine per cent (46,879) of cases received Income Assistance (also known as Temporary Assistance) and 71 per cent (115,813) received Disability Assistance.

The total number of social assistance cases increased by about 1,950 in 2021-22. Both programs saw increases, but Disability Assistance accounted for almost 88 per cent of new cases.

Income Assistance

After two years of steep increases, the average number of Income Assistance cases and beneficiaries in British Columbia saw a modest increase. In 2021-22, the number of Income Assistance cases rose by about 240 to reach nearly 46,900, and the number of beneficiaries rose by about 170 to reach 72,900.

The number of Income Assistance cases and beneficiaries fell substantially in the late-1990s and early-2000s. They rose in the late-2000s following the recession, but have remained much lower than the numbers from the previous decade.

Figure 1BC – Yearly cases and beneficiaries of Income Assistance in British Columbia, 1996 to 2022

Disability Assistance

In 2021-22, there was an average of just over 115,800 cases in British Columbia’s Disability Assistance program, and nearly 140,700 beneficiaries (individual claimants, their partners, and dependent children). Both numbers have been steadily rising over the last 26 years.

Figure 2BC – Yearly cases and beneficiaries of Disability Assistance in British Columbia, 1996 to 2022

What proportion of the population receives social assistance?

In 2021-22, on average, five per cent of people in British Columbia under 65 received Income Assistance or Disability Assistance, which is one in 20. 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 Disability Assistance has increased consistently since 1996-97, reaching 3.3 per cent in 2021-22.

The proportion of Income Assistance beneficiaries decreased steeply from 1996-97 to 2006-07, going from 8.8 per cent to 1.6 per cent. The proportion increased slightly to a peak of 2.4 per cent in 2010-11, and then decreased to reach a yearly average of about 1.7 per cent for the past eight years. In 2021-22, the average proportion of Income Assistance beneficiaries relative to the under-65 population remained stable at 1.7 per cent.

Note: The total population under 65 is estimated on July 1 of a given year, whereas social assistance beneficiary data is a fiscal year average (April to March).

Figure 3BC – Yearly beneficiaries of Income Assistance and Disability Assistance as a proportion of the under-65 population of British Columbia, 1996 to 2022

Who is receiving social assistance?

In 2021-22, unattached singles comprised the majority of social assistance cases among households for both Income Assistance and Disability Assistance, with 71 per cent and 87 per cent, respectively. For both programs, single parents were the second largest number of cases, with 25 per cent and seven per cent, respectively.

For Income Assistance, unattached singles households had the highest proportion of beneficiaries, with 46 per cent followed by single parent households, with 45 per cent. Unattached singles also consisted of the significant majority of Disability Assistance beneficiaries, with 72 per cent followed by single parent households with 15 per cent.

Income Assistance beneficiaries were almost equally split between female and male recipients. However, Disability Assistance had more male beneficiaries, with 53 per cent.

Income Assistance

Figure 4BC – Cases and beneficiaries of Income Assistance by household in British Columbia, 2020-21 and 2021-22



Figure 5BC – Beneficiaries of Income Assistance by gender in British Columbia, 2020-21 and 2021-22

Disability Assistance

Figure 6BC – Cases and beneficiaries of Disability Assistance by household in British Columbia, 2020-21 and 2021-22



Figure 7BC – Beneficiaries of Disability Assistance by gender in British Columbia, 2020-21 and 2021-22


Figure 8BC – Yearly social assistance data for British Columbia, 1996 to 2022

Figure 9BC – Social assistance data by household for British Columbia, 2020-21 and 2021-22

Figure 10BC – Social assistance data by gender for British Columbia, 2020-21 and 2021-22

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.
  • Gender for beneficiaries is estimated as information is not available for all recipients.
  • Click here for more information about how the data is gathered