Welfare in Canada, 2017

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 2017.

 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$6,400$10,800
Provincial child benefits$1,107$1,661
GST credit$278$292$424$702$848
Provincial tax credits/benefits$225$225$225$338$405
Total 2017 income$8,027$10,225$19,705$19,743$28,989

* The Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) program differs from the other social assistance programs referenced in this report in that recipients 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 recipient 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 recipients who have $3,000 or less in non-exempt assets.

Download the data in a table

On top of basic social assistance payments, some households benefited from additional social assistance programs. The Personal Needs Allowance provided $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.

In January 2017, a new provincial tax credit came into effect. The Alberta Climate Leadership Adjustment Rebate (ACLAR) was paid to low- and middle-income households to help them adjust to the new provincial carbon price. In the first 6 months of 2017, this credit amounted to $100 for a single person, $150 for a single parent with one child, and $180 for a couple with two children. In July, the value of the rebate increased. In the second half of 2017, it amounted to $125 for a single person, $187.50 for a single parent with one child, and $225 for a couple with two children.

July 2017 also saw a small increase in the maximum monthly payment for the Alberta Child Benefit, from $91.67 to $92.83 for a one-child household and from $137.50 to $139.25 for a two-child household.

Total welfare incomes in Alberta ranged from $8,027 for a single employable adult to $28,989 for a couple with two children. A person with a disability in Alberta on Income Support received $10,225 in 2017, but those who qualified for Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) benefits received a much higher amount of $19,705.

Changes to welfare incomes

There were two changes that affected welfare incomes in Alberta in 2017. First, this was the first full year the new Canada Child Benefit was paid and so the welfare incomes for households with children increased as a result. Second, Alberta implemented the Alberta Climate Leadership Adjustment Rebate (ACLAR) in January 2017 to help households adjust to the new provincial carbon levy. The rebate was increased in July 2017.

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 2017 dollars, taking into account the effect of inflation.


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  • The welfare income of single persons considered employable gradually declined over the 1990s and 2000s, with the only notable increase occurring in 2009. The value has been fluctuating around the $8,000 range since then. In 2017, a single person considered employable received up to $8,027.
  • For the past 25 years, the maximum welfare income of a person with a disability receiving income support has been fairly constant, fluctuating around $10,000. In 2017, it stood at $10,225.
  • Those who qualified for the Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) benefit had a welfare income of $19,705 in 2017, 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 in 2011 and 2012 but have been falling in value since 2013.


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  • The welfare incomes of households with children remained mostly unchanged between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s. But since 2015, they have risen for three consecutive years, largely as a result of changes to federal child benefits and the introduction of the Alberta Child Benefit in July 2016.
  • In 2017, a single parent with one child received a welfare income of $19,743, while a couple with two children received $28,989.
  • While the welfare incomes of households with children in 2017 were worth more than in the mid-1990s and 2000s, only that of the single parent with one child surpassed the 1986 amount.

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 Market Based Measure of poverty (MBM), which the National Poverty Strategy set as the official poverty measure, 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 the three low income thresholds (after tax). Because LICO and MBM thresholds vary by community size, the threshold taken is for Calgary, the largest city in Alberta.

 Single person considered employableSingle person with a disabilitySingle person in AISH program*Single parent, one childCouple, two children
Total welfare income$8,027$10,225$19,705$19,743$28,989
MBM     
MBM threshold (Calgary)$20,543$20,543$20,543$29,052$41,086
Welfare income minus MBM threshold-$12,516-$10,318-$838-$9,310-$12,098
Welfare income as % of MBM39%50%96%68%71%
LIM     
LIM threshold (Canada-wide)$23,020$23,020$23,020$32,555$46,039
Welfare income minus LIM threshold-$14,993-$12,795-$3,315-$12,812-$17,051
Welfare income as % of LIM35%44%86%61%63%
LICO     
LICO threshold (Calgary)$20,998$20,998$20,998$25,555$39,701
Welfare income minus LICO threshold-$12,971-$10,773-$1,293-$5,813-$10,713
Welfare income as % of LICO38%49%94%77%73%

* The AISH program differs from the other social assistance programs referenced in this report in that recipients 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 recipient 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 recipients who have $3,000 or less in non-exempt assets.

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 benefits, which provided an income close to, but still below, the low income thresholds.

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