Social Assistance Summaries

The Social Assistance Summaries series tracks the number of recipients of social assistance (welfare payments) in each province and territory.


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 598,000 cases (families and single adults) in Ontario’s social assistance programs during 2016/17. Around 40 per cent (252,000) received Ontario Works and 60 per cent (346,000) received ODSP. The number of cases of both forms of social assistance was slightly higher than in 2015/16.

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 252,000 in 2016/17. This is about half the level of the mid-1990s peak. The number of beneficiaries (the number of individual claimants, their partners, and dependent children) has followed a similar pattern over time and stood at 447,000 in 2016/17.

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Ontario Disability Support Program

In 2016/17, there was an average of 346,000 cases in the Ontario Disability Support Program, and 476,000 beneficiaries. Both numbers have been steadily rising since the early-2000s.

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Ontario data table

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