Welfare in Canada

Last updated: November 2019

This resource is not intended to help individuals identify what government transfers they could be entitled to. Individuals living in Alberta seeking financial assistance should visit this page.


Components of welfare incomes

Households that qualify for basic social assistance payments also qualify for other financial support including:

  • GST/HST credit
  • Provincial/territorial tax credits or benefits
  • Federal and provincial/territorial child benefits (for households with children)
  • Recurring additional social assistance payments (for example, an annual back-to-school allowance)

Together, these combine with basic social assistance payments to form the total welfare income of a household. Households may receive less if they have income from other sources, while some households may receive more if they have special health- or disability-related needs.

The table below shows the value and components of welfare incomes for four household types living in Calgary in 2018.

 Single person considered employableSingle person with a disabilitySingle person in AISH program*Single parent, one childCouple, two children
Basic social assistance$7,524$8,772$19,056$11,196$15,000
Additional SA benefits $936  $275
Federal child benefits   $6,448$10,881
Provincial child benefits   $1,121$1,682
GST credit$282$293$430$712$860
Provincial tax credits/benefits$300$300$300$450$540
Total 2018 income$8,106$10,301$19,786$19,927$29,238

* The Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) program differs from the other social assistance programs referenced in this report in that clients are provided with a flat-rate living allowance benefit that is not linked to household size. In addition to the living allowance, AISH may provide a $100 Child Benefit for each dependent child and Personal Benefits for the client and his or her dependent children to meet one-time or ongoing needs, such as a special diet and child care. Personal Benefits are provided only to clients who have $3,000 or less in non-exempt assets.

Download the data in a table

Total welfare incomes in Alberta ranged from $8,106 for the single employable adult to $29,238 for the couple with two children. A person with a disability on Income Support received $10,301 in 2018 but one who qualified for Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) benefits received $19,786, nearly double that amount.

On top of basic social assistance, some households received additional social assistance benefits, as shown in the table. The Personal Needs Allowance provided $936 ($78 per month) to the single person with a disability, and the annual School Expense Allowance provided the couple with children with $100 for the 10-year-old and $175 for the 15-year-old.

Both households with children received the Alberta Child Benefit. This monthly payment increased in July 2018 from $92.83 to $94.00 for a one-child household and from $139.25 to $141.00 for a two-child household. They also received the Canada Child Benefit which increased in July 2018 from $533 to $541 per month for a child under 6 years of age and from $450 to $457 per month for a child aged 6 to 17.

All households received the GST credit, which increased in July 2018 in line with inflation, and the Alberta Climate Leadership Adjustment Rebate (ACLAR), a provincial tax credit. In January 2018, the annual ACLAR payment increased to $300 for a single person, $450 for a single parent with one child, and $540 for a couple with two children.


Changes to welfare incomes

The graphs below show how the total welfare incomes for each of the four illustrative household types have changed over time. The values are in constant 2018 dollars, taking into account the effect of inflation as measured by the national consumer price index.

Download the data in a table

  • The welfare income of single persons considered employable in Alberta gradually declined over the 1990s and 2000s, with the only notable increase occurring in 2009. The value has been fluctuating just above $8,000 since then. In 2018, the single person considered employable received $8,106.

  • Since 1989, the welfare income of a person with a disability receiving income support has been fairly constant, fluctuating around $10,000. In 2018, it stood at $10,301.

  • Those who qualified for the Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) program had a welfare income of $19,786 in 2018, almost double their counterparts on regular social assistance.

  • Trends in AISH payments have only been tracked since 2006. Welfare incomes of AISH recipients were boosted substantially in 2012 but have been falling in value since 2014.

Download the data in a table

  • The welfare incomes of households with children declined gradually between the early 1990s and mid-2000s. They rose from 2015 to 2017 because of changes to federal child benefits and the introduction of the Alberta Child Benefit in July 2016.

  • In 2018, a single parent with one child received a welfare income of $19,927 while a couple with two children received $29,238.


Adequacy of welfare incomes

The adequacy of a household’s total welfare income can be assessed by comparing it to a set threshold of low income. In Canada there are three commonly used measures:

  1. The official poverty measure (also known as the Market Basket Measure or MBM) identifies households whose disposable income is less than the cost of a basket of goods and services that represent a basic standard of living.
  2. The Low Income Measure of poverty (LIM) identifies households whose income is substantially below what is typical in society (less than half of the median income).
  3. The Low Income Cut-Off measure (LICO) identifies households that are likely to spend a disproportionately large share of their income on the necessities of food, clothing, and shelter.

The table below shows how welfare incomes in Alberta for the four household types compared to three low income thresholds (after tax). Because LICO and MBM thresholds vary by community size, the threshold used is for Calgary.

 Single person considered employableSingle person with a disabilitySingle person in AISH programSingle parent, one childCouple, two children
Total welfare income$8,106$10,301$19,786$19,927$29,238
MBM threshold (Calgary)$20,585$20,585$20,585$29,111$41,170
Welfare income minus MBM threshold-$12,479-$10,284-$799-$9,184-$11,933
Welfare income as % of MBM39%50%96%68%71%
LIM threshold (Canada-wide)$24,054$24,054$24,054$34,017$48,108
Welfare income minus LIM threshold-$15,948-$13,752-$4,268-$14,090-$18,870
Welfare income as % of LIM34%43%82%59%61%
LICO threshold (Calgary)$21,481$21,481$21,481$26,143$40,614
Welfare income minus LICO threshold-$13,375-$11,180-$1,695-$6,216-$11,377
Welfare income as % of LICO38%48%92%76%72%

Download the data in a table

For each household type, the maximum welfare income was below all low income measures. As a proportion, the biggest gap was for single adults considered employable — their maximum welfare income was less than 40 per cent of the low income thresholds. The smallest gap was for single adults with a disability who qualified for Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) benefits. They had an income close to, but still below, the low income thresholds.

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