Welfare in Canada

Last updated: November 2019

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

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 value of each component of welfare income varies by household composition and area because each jurisdiction has distinct income security programs.

The table below shows the maximum total welfare income four different household types would have received in 2018 in each province. These amounts are based on a series of assumptions outlined in the About this resource section.

Total welfare incomes in each province in 2018

 Single person considered employableSingle person with a disability*Single parent, one childCouple, two children
Alberta$8,106$10,301*$19,927$29,238
British Columbia$9,042$14,802$20,782$27,006
Manitoba$9,756$12,403$21,764$29,918
New Brunswick$7,126$9,839$19,978$26,505
Newfoundland and Labrador$11,383$11,583$23,436$29,296
Nova Scotia$7,437$10,268$18,240$27,756
Ontario$9,646$14,954$21,463$30,998
Prince Edward Island$10,445$11,208$20,977$32,757
Quebec$9,320$13,651$21,867$30,453
Saskatchewan$8,883$11,422*$21,087$29,955

* Alberta and Saskatchewan have specific programs for persons with a severe disability that is likely to be permanent. In 2018, the maximum income of a person with a disability in Alberta’s Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped program was $19,786; for someone in the Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability program it was $15,789.

Download the data in a table

  • In 2018, the highest welfare income of a single person considered employable was in Newfoundland and Labrador at $11,383, followed by PEI at $10,445. In all other provinces, welfare incomes clustered at a lower level of around $7,100 to $9,800.

  • Ontario had the highest welfare income for individuals on a standard disability assistance program at $14,954, British Columbia was slightly lower at $14,802, and Quebec was third highest at $13,651. All other provinces had much lower levels of between $9,800 and $12,500.

  • 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 at $19,786 in Alberta and $15,789 in Saskatchewan.

  • The maximum welfare income for a single parent with one child ranged from $18,240 in Nova Scotia to $23,436 in Newfoundland and Labrador, and for a couple with two children it ranged from $26,505 in New Brunswick to $32,757 in Prince Edward Island.

The next table shows the same information but for the territories. It is based on the same methodology as the provincial figures, but they are not directly comparable because of the distinct situation in the territories (for more on the methodology, see the About this resource section).

Total welfare incomes in each territory in 2018

Jurisdiction Single person considered employable Single person with a disability Single parent, one child Couple, two children

Northwest Territories

$22,163

$27,553

$34,447

$45,567

Nunavut

$7,782

$10,782

$18,098

$29,561

Yukon

$18,093

$21,747

$34,003

$50,489

The welfare incomes in the 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 are reduced through housing subsidies.

Download the data in a table

 

Changes to welfare incomes

The table below compares the welfare incomes paid in 2018 with those paid in 2017 without adjusting for inflation. The values with an * highlight where welfare income increased by more than the cost of living (based on the 2018 national rate of inflation of 2.3 per cent). These households could buy more with their welfare incomes in 2018 than they could in 2017. The values without an * indicate that welfare incomes did not keep pace with inflation. These households were actually worse off than in the previous year. The table does not include the three territories because of the distinct nature of social assistance in each of them.

Change in total welfare income between 2017 and 2018 in each province

 Single person considered employableSingle person with a disabilitySingle parent, one childCouple, two children
Alberta1.0%0.7%0.9%0.9%
British Columbia*11.3%*13.0%*5.0%*4.0%
Manitoba*2.8%2.2%1.9%1.5%
New Brunswick0.1%0.0%0.3%0.4%
Newfoundland and Labrador0.0%0.0%0.3%0.4%
Nova Scotia0.1%0.0%0.3%0.3%
Ontario2.0%1.9%1.5%1.5%
Prince Edward Island*32.2%*9.6%1.7%1.9%
Quebec*2.6%*7.1%1.5%*2.7%
Saskatchewan0.7%1.3%0.0%0.6%

* indicates the welfare incomes that increased by more than costs (based on the 2018 national rate of inflation of 2.3 per cent).

Download the data in a table

In 2018, the total annual welfare incomes for all households increased, from a minuscule increase for a single parent in Saskatchewan (0.005 per cent) to 13 per cent for a single person with a disability in British Columbia. Of the 40 different household and jurisdiction combinations in the table, the welfare income rose by more than the cost of living in 2018 in just eight scenarios (indicated by an *).

In British Columbia, welfare incomes rose above inflation for all household types. This was driven by a $100 increase in monthly social assistance payments for all household types which came into effect in October 2017. Single persons with a disability in BC received a further boost of $52 to their monthly social assistance income beginning in January 2018.

Welfare incomes in Quebec also rose above inflation in 2018 for all household types except the single parent. Single persons with a disability saw the biggest rise in welfare incomes, driven by a $73 increase to their monthly social assistance payments beginning in February 2018. At the same time, the monthly social assistance increase of $15 per month for all other households was enough to meet the rising cost of living for a single person considered employable, but not for the households with children. However, the couple with two children also benefited from a new annual payment of $100 for each school-age child through the Child Assistance program. The payment for the 2017/18 and 2018/19 school years were both received in the 2018 calendar year.

Compared to other household types and other jurisdictions, the single person considered employable in PEI saw the largest proportional increase to their welfare income in 2018. This was mostly due to a gradual shift in policy in recognition of the changing rental market which meant that single adults considered employable could receive the higher shelter allowance rate of $539 per month instead of the lower rate of $346 per month. Meanwhile the welfare income of the person with a disability in PEI increased due to the introduction of a $150 per month Community Living Allowance in July 2018.

The main change affecting welfare incomes in Manitoba was an increase to the Rent Assist program for all households. This meant that the total welfare income of single adults considered employable, but not other households, kept up with rising prices. Similarly, in Ontario, social assistance payments rose slightly for all household types in 2018, but, nonetheless, total welfare incomes did not keep pace with inflation.

In Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Alberta, there were no changes to social assistance payments between 2017 and 2018. Households in these provinces only saw small shifts in their welfare income through indexed federal child benefits and the GST credit.

Saskatchewan’s welfare incomes in 2018 were driven down by a decrease to social assistance rates mid-way through 2017, which was partially countered by a simultaneous increase to the provincial tax credit. But social assistance payments in Saskatchewan are also linked to utility costs, and annual fluctuations in these also influence total welfare incomes.

The next table shows the same information but for the territories. It is based on the same methodology as the provincial figures, but they are not directly comparable because of the distinct situation in the territories (for more on the methodology, go to the About this resource page).

Change in total welfare income between 2017 and 2018 in each territory

 Single person considered employableSingle person with a disabilitySingle parent, one childCouple, two children
Northwest territories*28.9%*24.0%1.1%*3.0%
Nunavut*30.8%*25.4%*6.4%*3.0%
Yukon1.5%1.3%*2.8%*3.2%

* indicates the welfare incomes that increased by more than costs (based on the 2018 national rate of inflation of 2.3 per cent).

In Nunavut, 2018 welfare incomes rose significantly more than the cost of living for all household types. This was mostly the result of a restructure of, and increase to, basic social assistance payments beginning in July 2018.

In the Northwest Territories, welfare incomes rose more than the cost of living for single persons considered employable and single persons with a disability. This was due to a policy change in April 2018 that aligned CMHC’s average cost of a one-bedroom apartment to the shelter component of social assistance for single adults. In 2018, the full impact of the increase to the NWT Child Benefit took effect but it was not enough to keep up with inflation for the single parent. However, the welfare income of the couple with two children increased more than inflation due to both the NWT Child Benefit and a rise in their estimated utility costs (which directly increases their social assistance income).

Lastly, despite an increase in basic social assistance payments to all households in the Yukon, total welfare incomes for single adults did not rise more than the cost of living. However, a new payment for families with children was introduced which meant that the total welfare incomes of the single parent and the couple with two children increased more than the cost of living in 2018.

Longer term changes to welfare incomes are shown on the page for each jurisdiction. Rather than present the change as a percentage and compare it to the cost of living, the jurisdiction pages show the dollar value of total welfare incomes in each year after adjusting for inflation. Therefore the graphs show how welfare incomes have changed in terms of the goods someone could buy.

 

Adequacy of welfare incomes

The table below looks at how welfare incomes in 2018 compared to the official poverty measure (the Market Basket Measure of poverty, or MBM) for each of the household types. To demonstrate the range across Canada, the table shows the province 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.

  JurisdictionWelfare incomePoverty thresholdPoverty gap ($)% of MBM
Single person considered employableLowestHalifax, NS$7,437$19,124-$11,68739%
HighestSt. John’s, NL$11,383$19,502-$8,11958%
Single person with a disability*LowestCalgary, AB$10,301$20,585-$10,28450%
HighestMontreal, QC$13,651$18,026-$4,37576%
Single parent, one childLowestHalifax, NS$18,240$27,046-$8,80667%
HighestMontreal, QC$21,867$25,330-$3,79485%
Couple, two childrenLowestVancouver, BC$27,006$41,367-$14,36165%
HighestCharlottetown, PEI$32,757$38,514-$5,75785%

* This does not include the welfare incomes for individuals on distinct disability programs in Alberta or Saskatchewan. The total welfare income of a person on Alberta’s Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped program reached 96 per cent of the poverty threshold; for someone on the Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability program it reached 81 per cent of the poverty threshold.
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Download the data in a table

Even where welfare incomes were highest, they fell short of the poverty threshold. The closest was in Montreal, Quebec where the welfare income of a single parent reached 85 per cent of the poverty threshold and in Charlottetown, PEI where welfare incomes for a couple with two children also reached 85 per cent of the threshold.

Welfare incomes for adults considered employable were particularly low. Even the highest level in Newfoundland and Labrador amounted to just 58 per cent of the poverty threshold in St. John’s; welfare incomes were typically much lower. The lowest was 39 per cent in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The lowest adequacy score for a single person with a disability was in Alberta where it amounted to just 50 per cent of the poverty threshold in Calgary. However, individuals eligible for Alberta’s Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped program received a much higher welfare income which amounted to 96 per cent of the poverty threshold in Calgary. The highest adequacy score for a single person with a disability on a ‘regular’ social assistance program was 76 per cent in Montreal.

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