Welfare in Canada

Alberta

Last updated: December 2021
Revised: May 2022

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:

  • Recurring additional social assistance payments from the province;
  • Federal and provincial child benefits (for households with children); and
  • Federal tax credits or benefits.

Together, these combine 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. In 2020, these households were also eligible for benefits introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The table below shows the value of the welfare income components of the five example household types in Alberta in 2020. All five households are assumed to be living in Calgary. The child in the single parent family is two years old and the children in the couple household are ten and 15. COVID-19 pandemic-related payments are included in the basic social assistance, child benefit, and tax credit/ benefits amounts, where applicable.

Components of welfare incomes, 2020

Note: Totals may not add up due to rounding.

*The Barriers to Full Employment (BFE) category of Alberta’s Income Support program provides the unattached single with a disability with slightly higher basic benefits than those provided to the unattached single considered employable. To access BFE, an applicant must show evidence that they will probably never be able to work full time continuously in the competitive labour force. This includes people whose employment is intermittent due to their health problems.

**The Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) provides recipients with a flat rate living allowance not linked to household size. Some additional benefits for recipients and any dependent children are available, depending on their circumstances. To access AISH, an applicant must show evidence that they have a severe handicap that causes substantial limitation in their ability to earn a livelihood and that is likely to be permanent.

Total annual welfare incomes in 2020 ranged from $9,967 for the unattached single considered employable to $35,659 for the couple with two children. The unattached single with a disability who qualified for Barriers to Full Employment (BFE) received $11,430 and the unattached single with a disability who qualified for Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) received $21,554. The single parent with one child received $24,459.

Basic social assistance: Monthly basic social assistance benefit amounts remained unchanged in 2020.

Additional social assistance: Only the couple with children had access to additional social assistance benefits. The annual School Expense Allowance provided $103 for the ten-year-old and $179 for the 15-year-old in that household.

Federal child benefits: Both households with children received the Canada Child Benefit (CCB), which increased with inflation in July 2020 from $553.25 to $563.75 per month for a child under six years of age and from $466.83 to $475.67 per month for a child aged six to 17. In addition, they received a one-time COVID-19 pandemic-related CCB top-up payment of $300 per child in May.

Provincial child benefits: Both households with children received the Alberta Child Benefit (ACB) in the six-month period from January to June, and the newly-created Alberta Child and Family Benefit (ACFB) in the six months from July to December. The ACFB replaced both the ACB and the Alberta Family Employment Tax Credit as of July 2020 and was delivered quarterly through the Canada Revenue Agency. The monthly ACB amount for the single parent household was $96.25 and $144.33 for the couple with two children. The monthly ACFB amount for the single parent household was $110.83 and $166.24 for the couple with two children.

Federal tax credits / benefits: All five households received the GST/HST credit, which increased in July 2020 with inflation. The unattached single considered employable, the unattached single with a disability eligible for BFE benefits, and the unattached single with a disability eligible for AISH benefits all received $293 in basic GST/HST credit, while the single parent with one child received $586 and the couple with two children received $894. The unattached single with a disability also received $10.98 through the GST/HST credit supplement while the unattached single with a disability who qualified for the AISH program and the single parent with one child received the full amount of $154.

A one-time COVID-19 pandemic-related GST/HST credit top-up payment, delivered in April 2020, provided the basic amount of $290 to the unattached single considered employable and the unattached single with a disability receiving BFE benefits, and $443 to the unattached single with a disability receiving AISH benefits. The single parent with one child received $733 and the couple with two children received $886.

All five households also received the new federal climate action incentive (CAI) payment. The unattached single considered employable, the unattached single with a disability eligible for BFE benefits, and the unattached single with a disability eligible for AISH benefits all received the basic CAI payment amount for Alberta of $444. The single parent with one child received the basic amount plus the single parent’s qualified dependant amount of $222, for a total of $666. The couple with two children received the basic amount, the spousal amount of $222, and the qualified dependant amount of $111 for each child, for a total of $888.

Provincial tax credits / benefits: No provincial tax credits or benefits were available to the example households in 2020.

COVID-19 pandemic-related payments

All pandemic-related payments available to the example Alberta households came from federal programs (i.e., the GST/HST credit and Canada Child Benefit). In total, both the unattached single considered employable and the unattached single with a disability eligible for BFE benefits received an additional $290, while the unattached single with a disability eligible for AISH benefits received $443, the single parent with one child received $1,033, and the couple with two children received $1,486. These amounts are included in, and are not in addition to, the benefits described in the Components section above.

COVID-19 pandemic-related payments, 2020

 

Changes to welfare incomes

The graphs below show how the total welfare incomes for each of the five example household types in Alberta have changed over time. Note that the values are in 2020 constant dollars, and not in nominal dollars. This takes into account the effect of inflation as measured by the national consumer price index, given that inflation reduces real dollar values over time.

After the late 1980s reduction and small increase in 1991, the welfare income of the unattached single considered employable gradually declined until 2005. Increases in 2006 and 2009 were followed by a period of relative stasis at around $8,500 until the 2019 increase to $9,443. The increase in 2020 to $9,967 is primarily accounted for in the addition of the federal climate action incentive payment, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic top-up to the GST/HST credit. The 2020 income amount is the highest for the unattached single considered employable since the 1980s.

Since 1989, the welfare income of the unattached single with a disability receiving Barriers to Full Employment (BFE) benefits has been fairly constant, fluctuating between a low of $10,049 in 2005 and the 2020 high of $11,430, which is only $34 higher than the previous peak in 1991. The increase between 2019 and 2020 is due primarily to the COVID-19 pandemic top-up to the GST/ HST credit as well as the addition of the federal climate action incentive payment.

The welfare income for the unattached single with a disability receiving Alberta’s Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) benefits was $21,554 in 2020, which is nearly double that of their counterparts who received BFE benefits. However, it is still $148 lower than the peak in 2013. Substantial increases in value in 2012 and 2013 were followed by several years of declines until 2019. The increase between 2019 and 2020 was again primarily due to the new federal climate action incentive payment and the COVID-19 pandemic-related top-up to the GST/HST credit.

The welfare incomes of both households with children peaked in 2020. Both followed a similar pattern of gradual decline 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. After a considerable increase in basic social assistance benefits in 2019, the slightly smaller increases in 2020 are due primarily to federal COVID-19 pandemic top-ups to both the Canada Child Benefit and the GST/HST credit and the addition of the federal climate action incentive.

In 2020, the single parent with one child received a welfare income of $24,459, while the couple with two children received $35,659, both of which are the highest amounts across 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 poverty and/or low income.

In Canada, there are two commonly used measures of poverty:

  • Canada’s Official Poverty Line, 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.
  • Deep Income Poverty (MBM-DIP) identifies households whose disposable income is less than 75 per cent of the MBM.

There are also two commonly used measures of low income:

  • 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.

Note that MBM thresholds vary by province and community size, and LICO thresholds vary by community size, and so those for Calgary are used in the analysis below. As well, both the MBM and LIM thresholds are estimates based on increasing the 2019 thresholds to account for inflation.

Note also that none of the poverty or low-income measures currently in use in Canada account for the higher cost of living faced by persons with disabilities, and thus these additional costs are not reflected in our analysis.

More information about the thresholds is available in the methodology section.

A table containing comparisons of the welfare incomes of the five example household types in Alberta with all four poverty / low-income thresholds is available for download.

Poverty threshold comparisons

The two figures below compare 2020 welfare incomes for the five example household types to the MBM and MBM-DIP thresholds for Calgary.

The welfare incomes of all five example household types in Alberta were below Canada’s Official Poverty Line thresholds in 2020, which means that all five households were living in poverty. In addition, in 2020 four of the households were living in deep poverty as defined by the MBM-DIP.

The unattached single considered employable had the lowest income relative to the poverty thresholds. Their income was $8,789 below the deep income poverty threshold and $15,041 below the poverty line. This means their income was only 53 per cent of the MBM-DIP and only 40 per cent of the MBM.

The unattached single with a disability receiving Barriers to Full Employment (BFE) program benefits had an only marginally better relative income. Their income was $7,326 below the deep income poverty threshold and $13,578 below the poverty line. In other words, their income was only 61 per cent of the MBM-DIP and only 46 per cent of the MBM.

The unattached single with a disability who qualified for the Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) program had the highest relative income. They were the only example household in Alberta to have an income above the deep income poverty threshold, at $2,798 above deep income poverty. However, their income remained below the poverty line by $3,454. This means their income was 115 per cent of the MBM-DIP and 86 per cent of the MBM.

Note that the poverty experienced by persons with disabilities is under-represented given that neither the MBM nor the MBM-DIP account for the additional costs of disability.

The adequacy of the incomes of households with children were comparable to each other, and both were higher, relative to the poverty thresholds, than two of the unattached single households (excepting that of the unattached individual receiving AISH).

The income of the single parent with one child was $2,065 below the deep income poverty threshold and $10,907 below the poverty line. This means their income was 92 per cent of the MBM-DIP and 69 per cent of the MBM.

The income of the couple with two children was $1,852 below the deep income poverty threshold and $14,356 below the poverty line. In other words, their income was 95 per cent of the MBM-DIP and 71 per cent of the MBM.

Low-income threshold comparisons

The welfare incomes of these households were also below, and in some instances far below, the low-income thresholds, as shown in the table linked above.

The lowest income relative to the thresholds was that of the unattached single considered employable, whose total welfare income was only 39 per cent of the LIM and 45 per cent of the LICO. The unattached single with a disability receiving BFE benefits also had a low relative income, at 45 per cent of the LIM and 52 per cent of the LICO. The highest was that of the unattached single with a disability receiving AISH benefits, whose income was 85 per cent of the LIM and 98 per cent of the LICO.

Households with children had comparable income-to-threshold levels: 68 per cent of the LIM and 91 per cent of the LICO for the single parent with one child, and 70 per cent of the LIM and 85 per cent of the LICO for the couple with two children.

Changes to adequacy of welfare incomes

The graph below shows the total welfare incomes of each of the five example household types in Alberta since 2002 as a percentage of the MBM, which indicates changes in their level of poverty over time. A rise in the trendline indicates an improvement in their level of poverty while a decline indicates a worsening of their poverty.

Note that the MBM thresholds reflect the base in use in each year in question (i.e., the 2000, 2008, and 2018 bases; the latter two are indicated with vertical lines in each graph). Rebasing creates a sufficiently higher threshold than that using a previous base, which typically results in a worsening of poverty in the year in which the new base is used. As noted above, MBM thresholds vary by province and community size, and so Calgary is used. Also note that the 2020 MBM thresholds are estimates. More information is in the methodology section.

The welfare income of the unattached single considered employable has made little progress relative to the MBM since 2002, when it stood at 36 per cent of the poverty line. A period of stagnation between 2002 and 2006 ended with a decline beginning in 2006, reaching a low of 31 per cent of the MBM with the 2008 rebasing. This was followed by an increase to 39 per cent in 2009. Another period of stagnation from 2009 to 2017 ended with a worsening of their level of poverty with the 2018 rebasing. Improvements occurred again after the rebasing, with an increase to 38 per cent in 2019. In 2020, their income was only 40 per cent of the poverty line, which equals the highest value seen in other years across the 18-year period.

The welfare income of the unattached single with a disability receiving BFE benefits has decreased relative to the MBM since 2002, meaning the level of their poverty has worsened over the 18-year period. Relative stagnation at around 53 per cent of the poverty line between 2002 and 2007 was followed by a decline starting in 2006, reaching 49 per cent with the 2008 rebasing. Slight increases in 2009 and 2010 were followed by another relatively stagnant period, at around 50 per cent of the poverty line between 2008 and 2017. Another decline occurred with the 2018 rebasing. Since then, their income has increased slightly, from 43 per cent of the poverty line in 2018 to 46 per cent in 2020.

The welfare income of the unattached single with a disability receiving AISH benefits hovered at around 80 per cent of the poverty line between the time the program was created in 2006 and 2011. A significant improvement occurred in 2012, with the welfare income relative to MBM going from 78 to 96 per cent, reaching a peak in 2013 at 101 per cent. Relative stagnation until 2017 was followed by a sharp decline with the 2018 rebasing, going from 98 to 82 per cent. Their 2020 welfare income was 86 per cent of the poverty line.

The welfare incomes of both households with children followed a comparable trendline relative to the poverty line. Both households saw their income stay relatively stagnant relative to the poverty line between 2002 and 2007, and between 2008 and 2015, broken up by a decline due to rebasing in 2008. The single parent with one child had an income that hovered around 60 per cent of the poverty line. That of the couple with two children, however, started at the higher level of around 66 per cent of the poverty line and then dropped to about 60 per cent in 2008, staying at that level until 2015. Improvements in their poverty level which started in 2015 were followed by a worsening in 2018, with improvements thereafter. The income of the single parent with one child was 69 per cent of the poverty line in 2020, and that of the couple with two children was 71 per cent.