Welfare in Canada
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Last updated: November 2020
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
In Alberta, households that qualify for basic social assistance payments also qualify for other financial support, including:
- Recurring additional social assistance payments (for example, an annual back-to-school allowance);
- Federal and provincial child benefits (for households with children);
- The GST/HST credit and credit supplements; and
- Provincial tax credits or benefits.
Together, these combine with basic social assistance payments to form a household’s total welfare income. Households may receive less if they have income from other sources, or more if they have special health- or disability-related needs.
The table below shows the value and components of welfare incomes for five example household types in 2019. All five households are assumed to be living in Calgary. The child in the single parent family is aged two, and the children in the couple household are aged 10 and 15.
|Single person considered employable||Single person with a disability||Single person in AISH program*||Single parent, one child||Couple, two children|
|Basic social assistance||$8,940||$10,392||$20,220||$14,076||$18,936|
|Additional SA benefits||$282|
|Federal child benefits||$6,568||$11,083|
|Provincial child benefits||$1,142||$1,712|
|Provincial tax credits/benefits||$150||$150||$150||$225||$270|
|Total 2019 income||$9,377||$10,837||$20,808||$22,735||$33,159|
Note: Totals may not add up due to rounding.
*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 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 childcare. Personal Benefits are provided only to clients who have $5,000 or less in non-exempt assets.
Total annual welfare incomes in 2019 ranged from $9,377 for a single employable adult to $33,159 for a couple with two children. A single person with a disability on Income Support received $10,837 in 2019 but a single person with a disability who qualified for Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) benefits received $20,808, nearly double that amount.
Monthly basic social assistance benefit amounts for all households increased on January 1, 2019 in line with inflation, plus an additional rate increase. Private housing shelter rates increased in line with inflation on January 1. The monthly Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) living allowance increased by $97 on January 1.
Only the couple with children received additional social assistance benefits. The annual School Expense Allowance provided $103 for the 10-year-old and $179 for the 15-year-old.
Unlike in previous years, in 2019 the single person with a disability was not eligible for the $80 per month Personal Needs Allowance. Starting January 1, this allowance was only provided to recipients in the “Expected to Work” stream of social assistance and not the “Barriers to Full Employment” stream. This change applied to new and existing recipients.
Both households with children received the Canada Child Benefit, which increased with inflation in July 2019 from $541 to $553.25 per month for a child under 6 years of age and from $457 to $466.83 per month for a child aged 6 to 17. They also received the Alberta Child Benefit, which increased with inflation in July 2019 from $94.00 to $96.25 per month for a one-child household and from $47.00 to $48.08 per month for each subsequent child.
All four households received the GST/HST credit, which increased in July 2019 with inflation. The single person considered employable, the single person with a disability on social assistance, and the single person with a disability on AISH benefits all received $287, while the single parent with one child received $574 and the couple with two children received $876. The single person with a disability also received $7.95 through the GST/HST credit supplement, while the person on the AISH program and the single parent received the full amount of $151.
All four households also received part of the Alberta Climate Leadership Adjustment Rebate (also known as the carbon tax rebate). In July 2019, rebate payments were discontinued due to the repeal of the Climate Leadership Act. Two payments were made in 2019 (in January and April) before the program concluded, which totalled $150 for a single person, $225 for a single parent with one child, and $270 for a couple with two children.
Changes to welfare incomes
The graphs below show how the total welfare incomes for each of the five example household types have changed over time. The values are in constant 2019 dollars, taking into account the effect of inflation as measured by the national consumer price index.
After a significant reduction in the late 1980s followed by a small increase in 1991, the welfare income of a single person considered employable gradually declined between 1991 and 2005, followed by notable increases in 2006 and 2009. Between 2009 and 2018, their total welfare income hovered at just over $8,000, with an increase in 2019 to $9,377. This is significantly less than the amount received in 1986, but similar to amounts in the early 1990s.
Since 1989, the welfare income of a single person with a disability on social assistance has been fairly constant, fluctuating at around $10,500. In 2019, their total welfare income stood at $10,837, which is $379 lower than the 2009 peak.
Since Alberta’s Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) program’s inception in 2006, the welfare income for a single person with a disability who qualifies for that program has increased in value by more than $5,000. A substantial increase in 2012 and a smaller increase in 2013 were followed by several years of declines in value. An increase of $646 to $20,808 in 2019 makes a single disabled person’s AISH income almost double that of their counterparts with a disability who receive regular social assistance benefits.
The welfare incomes of households with children gradually declined between 1990 and 2005, with increases and subsequent declines between 2006 and 2014. Since 2015, incomes increased primarily due to changes to federal child benefits and the 2016 introduction of the Alberta Child Benefit. The substantial increase in 2019 is due primarily to a considerable increase in basic social assistance benefits.
In 2019, a single parent with one child received a welfare income of $22,735 while a couple with two children received $33,159. These levels are the highest in the time series.
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:
- The official poverty measure, the Market Basket Measure (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.
- The Low Income Measure (LIM) identifies households whose income is substantially below what is typical in society (less than half of the median income).
- The Low Income Cut-Off (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 for the five example household types compared to the three low-income thresholds (after tax). Because LICO and MBM thresholds vary by community size, the threshold used for each is for Calgary.
|Single person considered employable||Single person with a disability||Single person in AISH program||Single parent, one child||Couple, two children|
|Total welfare income||$9,377||$10,837||$20,808||$22,735||$33,159|
|MBM threshold (Calgary)||$24,517||$24,517||$24,517||$34,672||$49,034|
|Welfare income minus MBM threshold||-$15,140||-$13,680||-$3,709||-$11,937||-$15,875|
|Welfare income as % of MBM||38%||44%||85%||66%||68%|
|LIM threshold (Canada-wide)||$24,642||$24,642||$24,642||$34,850||$49,285|
|Welfare income minus LIM threshold||-$15,265||-$13,806||-$3,834||-$12,115||-$16,126|
|Welfare income as % of LIM||38%||44%||84%||65%||67%|
|LICO threshold (Calgary)||$21,899||$21,899||$21,899||$26,653||$41,406|
|Welfare income minus LICO threshold||-$12,522||-$11,062||-$1,091||-$3,918||-$8,247|
|Welfare income as % of LICO||43%||50%||95%||85%||80%|
The maximum 2019 welfare incomes of all five example household types were below, and sometimes far below, the thresholds of all three low-income measures. Households with children had incomes closer to the thresholds than single persons.
The lowest income relative to the thresholds was that of a single person considered employable, whose total welfare income was less than 40 per cent of all the low-income measures. The highest was that of a single person with a disability who qualified for Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) benefits. Their income was 84 per cent of the LIM, 85 per cent of the MBM, and 95 per cent of the LICO thresholds. Households with children had similar income-to-threshold levels: 65 to 85 per cent for a single parent with one child and 67 to 80 per cent for a couple with two children.
Given that the MBM is Canada’s official poverty measure, and that having an income less than 75 per cent of the MBM is classified as “deep poverty,” the four example households on social assistance would have been living in deep poverty in 2019. The single person with a disability on the AISH program had an income above the deep poverty threshold but remained below the poverty line.