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: April 2019

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-related 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 610,000 cases (families and single adults) in Ontario’s social assistance programs during 2017/18. Around 40 per cent (250,000) received Ontario Works and 60 per cent (360,000) received ODSP. 

Ontario Works

After increasing in the late-2000s/early-2010s, the number of families or individuals receiving Ontario Works has been reasonably flat in recent years at 250,000 in 2017/18. This is about half the level of the mid-1990s peak. The number of beneficiaries (individual claimants, their partners, and dependent children) stood at 454,000 in 2017/18. 

Compared to the previous year, the number of Ontario Works cases was 1,900 lower and the number of beneficiaries was 6,800 higher. The number of beneficiaries rose because there was an increase in the number of couple families and sole-support parents receiving Ontario Works. However, this does not show in the number of cases because there was also a substantial reduction in the number of single adults receiving Ontario Works. 

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Ontario Disability Support Program

In 2017/18, there was an average of 359,000 cases in the Ontario Disability Support Program, and 494,000 beneficiaries. Both numbers have been steadily rising since the early 2000s. 

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Table - Ontario

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