Welfare in Canada, 2017

About Welfare in Canada

Welfare in Canada is a series that presents the welfare incomes of four example households living on social assistance in a given year.

Welfare incomes refers to a household’s total income from government transfers and not just social assistance payments. Individuals and families who are in receipt of basic rates of social assistance will also be eligible for financial support through tax credits, child benefits for households with children, and, where applicable, additional social assistance payments that are automatic and recurring (for example, an annual back-to-school allowance). Together these form the total welfare income of a household. The value varies in every province and territory because each jurisdiction has distinct social assistance programs.

Welfare in Canada, 2017 looks at the maximum total amount that a household (an individual or family) would have received over the course of the 2017 calendar year, assuming they had no other source of income and no assets. Some households may have received less if they had income from other sources, while some households may have received more if they had special health- or disability-related needs.

The report looks at:

  • Eligibility criteria for social assistance
  • Components of a household’s total welfare income
  • Variations in welfare incomes by province/territory
  • Changes in welfare incomes over time
  • Adequacy of welfare incomes compared to poverty thresholds

In each jurisdiction, the total welfare income for which a household is eligible depends on its specific composition. For illustrative purposes this resource focuses on the welfare incomes of four household types:

  1. Single person considered employable
  2. Single person with a disability
  3. Single parent with one child age 2
  4. Couple with two children ages 10 and 15

Welfare in Canada was established by the Caledon Institute of Social Policy to maintain data previously published by the National Council of Welfare. In 2018, Maytree assumed responsibility for updating the series.


The methodology replicates the approach used by the National Council of Welfare. To calculate the welfare income for each household type, we made the following assumptions:

  • The households started to receive assistance on January 1 and remained on assistance for the entire year.
  • The households had no earnings so were eligible to receive the maximum rate of assistance.
  • The heads of all households were deemed fully employable, with the exception of the single person with a disability.
  • The households lived in the largest city in their province or territory.
  • The households lived in private market housing and utility costs were included in the rent.
  • The households filed an income tax return at the end of the previous tax year.
  • Changes to welfare rates or other program rates over the course of the year were accounted for.
  • Basic rates and additional items (for example, a Christmas allowance or a back-to-school allowance) were included where applicable. Special needs amounts were not included.

Maytree thanks all jurisdictions for their cooperation in the production of the welfare incomes data presented in this report.