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 receive. Individuals seeking advice on their eligibility for welfare or financial assistance should contact their local social assistance provider (their province, territory or municipality).
Total welfare incomes in 2019
Households that qualify for basic social assistance payments 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 of total welfare income varies by jurisdiction because each province and territory has its own income security programs. The table below shows the maximum total welfare incomes that four example households would have received in 2019 in each province. The amounts are based on a series of assumptions outlined in the “About Welfare in Canada” section.
Total welfare incomes in each province in 2019
|Single person considered employable||Single person with a disability*||Single parent, one child||Couple, two children|
|Newfoundland and Labrador||$11,386||$11,586||$23,578||$29,533|
|Prince Edward Island||$11,245||$13,058||$22,158||$34,938|
* Alberta and Saskatchewan have specific programs for persons with a severe disability that is likely to be permanent. In 2019, the maximum income of a single person with a disability in Alberta’s Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped program was $20,808; for someone in the Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability program it was $15,826.
In 2019, the highest total welfare income of a single person considered employable was in Newfoundland and Labrador at $11,386, followed by PEI at $11,245. In all other provinces, incomes clustered at a lower level of around $7,100 to $9,800.
British Columbia had the highest welfare income for single people with a disability on a standard disability assistance program at $15,293, Ontario was slightly lower at $15,118, and Quebec was third highest at $14,804. All other provinces had much lower levels of between $9,800 and $13,100.
Alberta and Saskatchewan have specific programs for persons with a severe disability that is likely to be permanent. These provided higher welfare incomes than those on standard social assistance programs. The welfare incomes for a single person with a disability on these programs was $20,808 in Alberta and $15,826 in Saskatchewan.
The maximum welfare income for a single parent with one child ranged from $18,372 in Nova Scotia to $25,409 in Quebec; for a couple with two children, it ranged from $26,723 in New Brunswick to $37,636 in Quebec.
The next table shows the same information for the territories. It is based on the same methodology as the provincial figures, but they are not directly comparable due to significant differences in the cost of living and the nature of income security programs there.
Total welfare incomes in each territory in 2019
|Jurisdiction||Single person considered employable||Single person with a disability||Single parent, one child||Couple, two children|
The welfare incomes in Yukon and the Northwest Territories were generally higher than in the provinces, reflecting the higher cost of living in the territories. Conversely, welfare incomes in Nunavut were considerably lower than in the other two territories, reflecting the high proportion of households on social assistance living in subsidized housing whose living costs were reduced through housing subsidies.
The table below compares the welfare incomes paid in 2019 with those paid in 2018 without adjusting for inflation. The values with shading highlight where welfare income changed as a direct result of a policy change in that jurisdiction.
For context, the cost of living increased by 1.9 per cent in 2019 (based on the national rate of inflation). Households whose welfare incomes increased by less than 1.9 per cent were worse off in 2019 than in the previous year.
Change in total welfare income between 2018 and 2019 in each province
|Single person considered employable||Single person with a disability*||Single parent, one child||Couple, two children|
|Newfoundland and Labrador||0.0%||0.0%||+0.6%||+0.8%|
|Prince Edward Island||+7.7%||+16.5%||+5.6%||+6.7%|
* Alberta and Saskatchewan have specific programs for persons with a severe disability that is likely to be permanent. In 2019, the maximum income of a single person with a disability in Alberta’s Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped increased by 5.2 per cent; for someone in the Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability program it increased by 0.2 per cent.
Note: Shading indicates where welfare incomes changed as a direct result of a policy change in that province.
Of the 40 different household and jurisdiction combinations in the table, the largest percentage increase in 2019 welfare incomes was for couples with two children living in Quebec, at 23.6 per cent. Conversely the welfare income of single persons considered employable in Manitoba decreased by 1.2 per cent. Overall, welfare incomes rose by more than the cost of living in 19 of the 40 scenarios, which means that welfare incomes did not keep up with inflation for just over half of the example households.
In Alberta, welfare incomes rose above inflation for all household types. This was driven by an above-inflation increase to the basic needs and shelter allowances at the start of the year.
All household types in Prince Edward Island experienced significant increases in welfare incomes in 2019. This was because social assistance benefits increased considerably towards the end of 2018 and again at the start of 2019. Single persons with a disability saw the biggest increase in welfare incomes, due to the introduction of AccessAbility Supports in mid-2018, making 2019 the first full year of the new higher payments.
Welfare incomes in Quebec also rose above inflation in 2019 for all household types, with the largest increases among households with children. There were two main reasons for these increases. One was the introduction of the mandatory Aim for Employment program for new social assistance recipients, which included a fairly significant monthly Participation Allowance for recipients who complete planned employment-related activities. The other was an increase in the Family Allowance which benefitted the couple with two children in particular.
British Columbia is the only other province where the welfare incomes of all household types rose by more than the cost of living in 2019. This was the result of an increase in Income Assistance and Disability Assistance benefits of $50 per adult per month in April 2019.
In Manitoba, the welfare income of single persons considered employable fell in 2019 while the incomes of the three other household types increased by slightly more than the cost of living. The decrease for single persons considered employable was due to the discontinuation of the Job Seekers’ Allowance payment of $25 per month in April 2019. The welfare incomes of the three remaining households increased due to a rise in Manitoba’s Rent Assist benefits in July 2019, which did not extend to single persons considered employable aged under 55. Basic social assistance benefit amounts in Manitoba remained unchanged in 2019.
In New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Saskatchewan, there were no changes to social assistance payments between 2018 and 2019. Households in these provinces only saw small shifts in their welfare income through child benefits and tax credit programs, which automatically increased in line with inflation. In Saskatchewan, a portion of households’ total welfare incomes is linked to utility costs which fluctuate from year to year; this accounts for the slight reduction in the welfare income of single persons considered employable.
The next table shows the same information but for the territories.
Change in total welfare income between 2018 and 2019 in each territory
|Single person considered employable||Single person with a disability||Single parent, one child||Couple, two children|
Note: shading indicates where welfare incomes changed as a direct result of a policy change in that territory.
In Nunavut, 2019 welfare incomes rose more than the cost of living for all household types, particularly among households without children. This was mostly the result of a restructuring of and increase to basic social assistance payments beginning in July 2018, making 2019 the first full year of the new higher payments.
In the Northwest Territories (NWT), a portion of households’ total welfare income is directly linked to their utility and rental costs, and changes in these costs influence total welfare incomes. This accounts for most of the change shown in the table. However, a specific policy change also triggered a rise in the welfare income of single persons with a disability: in April 2019 the Disability Allowance increased from $300 to $405 per month. The NWT Cost of Living Offset was also introduced in 2019 and paid to all households in October, but its overall impact on annual welfare incomes was negligible.
Like NWT, Yukon also introduced a tax credit in 2019, the Yukon Government Carbon Price Rebate, which was paid to all households in October. But, as in NWT, its overall impact on annual welfare incomes was negligible. The main driver of the rise in welfare incomes in Yukon was the automatic increase to social assistance rates and federal tax credits in line with inflation.
Adequacy of welfare incomes across Canada
The table below looks at how welfare incomes in 2019 compared to Canada’s official poverty measure, the Market Basket Measure (MBM), for each of the example household types. To demonstrate the range across Canada, the table shows the provinces with the highest and lowest welfare incomes relative to the poverty threshold. Both the total welfare income and the poverty threshold in the table are for the biggest city in each province.
|Jurisdiction||Welfare income||Poverty threshold||Poverty gap ($)||% of MBM|
|Single person considered employable||Lowest||Nova Scotia (Halifax)||$7,442||$22,936||-$15,494||32%|
|Single person with a disability*||Lowest||Alberta (Calgary)||$10,837||$24,517||-$13,680||44%|
|Single parent, one child||Lowest||Nova Scotia (Halifax)||$18,372||$32,436||-$14,064||57%|
|Couple, two children||Lowest||BC (Vancouver)||$28,162||$49,829||-$21,667||57%|
* This does not include the welfare incomes for individuals on distinct disability programs in Alberta or Saskatchewan. The total welfare income of a single person on Alberta’s Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped program reached 85 per cent of the poverty threshold; for someone on the Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability program, it reached 68 per cent of the poverty threshold. As noted in the introduction, the poverty threshold does not take into consideration all the additional costs of living that are associated with having a disability.
Even where welfare incomes were highest, they fell short of the poverty threshold. The closest was in Quebec where the welfare income of a couple with two children living in Montreal reached 92 per cent of the poverty threshold. In fact, 37 of the 40 scenario households in the provinces were living in deep poverty (defined as having a disposable income less than 75 per cent of the MBM). There were two additional disability-specific programs in Saskatchewan and Alberta, both provided incomes below the poverty threshold for a single person household but above the deep poverty threshold.
Welfare incomes for single persons considered employable were particularly low. Even the highest level, in Prince Edward Island for those living in Charlottetown, amounted to just 51 per cent of the poverty threshold. Total welfare incomes in all other jurisdictions were much lower. The lowest was 32 per cent in Nova Scotia, for single persons living in Halifax.
The lowest adequacy score for a single person with a disability was in Alberta where it amounted to just 44 per cent of the poverty threshold for those living in Calgary. However, individuals eligible for Alberta’s Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped program received a much higher welfare income, which amounted to 85 per cent of the poverty threshold. The highest adequacy score for a single person with a disability on a “regular” social assistance program was in Quebec, at 72 per cent for those living in Montreal.