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 Ontario, social assistance is composed of two programs:

  1. Ontario Works (OW), which provides income and employment assistance to people in financial need
  2. Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), which is intended to help people with disabilities and their families live as independently as possible, and to reduce or eliminate disability-related barriers to employment

Both Ontario Works and ODSP provide income and employment supports, as well as a range of benefits.

Ontario Works

Ontario Works income assistance includes an amount for shelter and basic needs such as food and clothing. In addition, employment assistance helps clients find, prepare for, and maintain a job.

Ontario Disability Support Program

ODSP provides income support and employment supports to eligible individuals with disabilities and their families. ODSP income support helps with the cost of basic needs as well as providing certain health- and employment-related benefits.

ODSP includes employment supports – a voluntary program that provides employment assistance to help people with disabilities prepare for, find, and keep a job. Individuals do not have to receive ODSP income support to be eligible for employment supports.


How many people claim social assistance?

On average, there were about 619,000 cases (families and single adults) in Ontario’s social assistance programs during 2019-20. Around 39 per cent (240,545) received Ontario Works, and 61 per cent (378,441) received ODSP.

Ontario Works

On average, there were just under 241,000 families or individuals receiving Ontario Works in 2019-20, about 3,300 fewer than in 2018-19, but the number of cases remains above the pre-financial crisis level of 200,000. The number of beneficiaries stood at just under 442,000 in 2019-20, about 6,800 fewer than the previous year.

Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP)

In 2019-20, there was an average of just over 378,000 cases in the Ontario Disability Support Program and almost 522,000 beneficiaries. Both numbers have been steadily rising since the early 2000s.

Data notes

  • The data reflects the average number of cases and beneficiaries over the fiscal year (April 1 to March 31).
  • The numbers include First Nations living on reserves.
  • Ontario Works was proclaimed on May 1, 1998 and replaced the General Welfare Assistance Act (GWA).
  • Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) was proclaimed on June 1, 1998 and replaced the Family Benefits Act (FBA).
  • Data prior to June 1998 have been adjusted to reflect Ontario Works and ODSP.
  • Click here for more information about how the data is gathered