Social Assistance Summaries

Last updated: July 2022

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 comprised of two programs:

  1. Ontario Works (OW), which provides income and employment assistance to people in financial need; and
  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 support in the form of 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 over 595,000 cases (families and single adults) in Ontario’s social assistance programs during 2020-21. Over 36 per cent (217,234) were recipients of Ontario Works and 64 per cent (378,145) were recipients of the Ontario Disability Support Program.

Ontario Works

On average, there were just over 217,000 families or individuals receiving Ontario Works in 2020-21, a sharp drop of over 23,000 from 2019-20. The number of beneficiaries also decreased to just under 401,000 in 2020-21, about 41,000 fewer than the previous year. The number of cases and beneficiaries both decreased by between 9 and 10 per cent on average, the most significant drops in 20 years. The number of cases and beneficiaries remains above the pre-2008 financial crisis level.

Figure 1ON – Yearly cases and beneficiaries of Ontario Works, 1997 to 2021

Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP)

In 2020-21, there was an average of just over 378,000 cases in the Ontario Disability Support Program and around 520,000 beneficiaries. After steadily rising since the early 2000s, both numbers saw their first decreases.

Figure 2ON – Yearly cases and beneficiaries of the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), 1997 to 2021

What proportion of the population receives social assistance?

In 2020-21, on average, 7.6 per cent of people in Ontario under 65 received Ontario Works or the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), which is 1 in 13. 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 ODSP has increased consistently since 1997-98, reaching a high of 4.3 per cent in 2020-21.

The proportion of Ontario Works beneficiaries decreased steeply from 1997-98 to 2001-02, going from 8 per cent to 4 per cent. Since then, the proportion has stayed in the range between 3.3 per cent to 4.1 per cent. In 2020-21, the average proportion of Ontario Works relative to the under-65 population matched the previous low of 3.3 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 3ON – Yearly beneficiaries of Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) as a proportion of the under-65 population of Ontario, 1997 to 2021

Who is receiving social assistance?

In 2020-21, unattached singles comprised the majority of social assistance cases among households for both programs, with just over 61 per cent of Ontario Works and 79 per cent of the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). For both programs, single parents had the second largest percentage of cases, with almost 30 per cent for Ontario Works and 9 per cent for ODSP.

For Ontario Works, single parent households had the highest proportion of beneficiaries, with nearly 47 per cent, followed by unattached singles, with 33 per cent. Unattached singles comprised the majority of ODSP beneficiaries, with just under 58 per cent, followed by single parents, with around 17 per cent.

Females made up the majority of Ontario Works beneficiaries in 2020-21, with 64 per cent, about 77 per cent more than males. For ODSP, beneficiaries were almost equally split between males and females.

Ontario Works

Figure 4ON – Cases and beneficiaries of the Ontario Works by household, 2020-21

Figure 5ON – Beneficiaries of the Ontario Works by sex, 2020-21

Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP)

Figure 6ON – Cases and beneficiaries of the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) by household, 2020-21

Figure 7ON – Beneficiaries of the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) by sex, 2020-21


Figure 8ON - Yearly social assistance data for Ontario, 1997 to 2021

Figure 9ON – Social assistance data by household for Ontario, 2020-21

Figure 10ON – Social assistance data by sex for Ontario, 2020-21

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