Welfare in Canada, 2017
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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 2017 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 2017
|Jurisdiction||Single person considered employable||Single person with a disability*||Single parent, one child||Couple, two children|
|Newfoundland and Labrador||$11,379||$11,579||$23,364||$29,178|
|Prince Edward Island||$7,900||$10,229||$20,619||$32,135|
* The maximum income of a person with a disability on Alberta’s Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped program was higher at $19,705. The maximum income of a person with a disability on the Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability program was $15,645.
- In 2017, the highest welfare income of a single person considered employable was in Newfoundland and Labrador at almost $11,400, but in all other provinces, welfare incomes clustered at a lower level of around $7,000 to $9,500.
- Ontario had the highest welfare income for individuals on a standard disability assistance program at almost $14,700, with all other provinces falling between $9,800 and $13,100. But Alberta and Saskatchewan had specific programs for persons with a severe and permanent disability, with higher welfare incomes that reached $19,705 and $15,645, respectively.
- The maximum welfare income for a single parent with one child ranged from just under $18,200 in Nova Scotia to $23,364 in Newfoundland and Labrador, and for a couple with two children it ranged from $25,976 in British Columbia to $32,135 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 2017
|Jurisdiction||Single person considered employable||Single person with a disability||Single parent, one child||Couple, two children|
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 lower than in the provinces, reflecting the high proportion of households on social assistance living in subsidized housing whose living costs are reduced through housing subsidies.
Changes to welfare incomes
The table below shows how the value of welfare incomes in each province for each household type changed between 2016 and 2017. The values for 2016 have been adjusted based on the national rate of inflation. This means that in areas where benefit rates have not changed, the table will show this as a slight fall in value as, due to rising prices, the same benefit amount can buy less goods. 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 2016 and 2017 (adjusted for inflation)
|Single person considered employable||Single person with a disability||Single parent, one child||Couple, two children|
|Newfoundland and Labrador||-$213||-$115||$89||$856|
|Prince Edward Island||-$44||-$81||$181||$808|
In 2017, the total welfare incomes for both household types with children increased in every province. This was mostly the result of the new Canada Child Benefit as 2017 was the first full year it was paid. For a single parent with one child the typical increase in annual welfare income was around $200, and for a couple with two children the increase was around four times higher. Families with children in Alberta saw the biggest increase in their welfare incomes in 2017 because they also benefited from an increase to the Alberta Child Benefit and the introduction of the Alberta Climate Leadership Adjustment Rebate.
The change in welfare incomes for single adult households was less substantial and less consistent than for households with children. The total welfare income for a single person considered employable rose in value in five provinces and fell in five. In most cases, these changes were relatively small. The biggest shift was in Saskatchewan where the total welfare income fell by $402. While some of the fall is the result of a reduction in social assistance rates during 2017, the main driver of the change in value was a decrease in the estimated average expenditure on utilities by single employable adults receiving social assistance and not a specific policy or rate change (see section on Saskatchewan for more details). This drop in the value of income was slightly countered by an increase in provincial tax credits. The decrease in Newfoundland and Labrador was mostly due to the discontinuation of the Home Heating Rebate program in 2016.
Similarly, the welfare income for a single person with a disability rose in some provinces and fell in others. Overall these changes were relatively small, except in British Columbia, where the welfare income for a single person with a disability rose in value by $1,183 following two increases to Disability Assistance rates during 2017.
Adequacy of welfare incomes
The adequacy of a household’s total welfare income can be assessed by comparing it to a set threshold of low income. The table below looks at how welfare incomes in 2017 compared to the official poverty measure (the Market Based Measure of poverty, or MBM) for each of the household types.
The MBM defines households in poverty as those with an after-tax income less than the cost of a basket of goods and services that represent a basic standard of living. The territories are not included in this part of the analysis because the poverty thresholds are set using the Canadian Income Survey, which does not cover the three territories.
To demonstrate the range across Canada, the table shows the province with the highest and lowest welfare incomes relative to the poverty threshold. As the poverty threshold varies locally within each province due to different cost of basic goods, the welfare incomes were compared to the poverty thresholds for the biggest city in each province.
|Jurisdiction||Welfare income||Poverty threshold||Poverty gap ($)||% of MBM|
|Single person considered employable||Lowest||Halifax, NS||$7,433||$19,348||-$11,915||38%|
|Highest||St. John’s, NL||$11,379||$19,692||-$8,313||58%|
|Single person with a disability*||Lowest||Calgary, AB||$10,225||$20,543||-$10,318||50%|
|Single parent, one child||Lowest||Halifax, NS||$18,182||$27,363||-$9,181||66%|
|Couple, two children||Lowest||Vancouver, BC||$25,976||$40,913||-$14,937||63%|
* This does not include the welfare incomes for individuals on the specialist disability programs in Alberta or Saskatchewan.
Even where welfare incomes were highest, they fell short of the poverty threshold. The closest was in Quebec where the welfare income of a single parent reached 85 per cent of the poverty threshold in Montreal; for a couple with two children it reached 83 per cent.
Welfare incomes in Montreal had the highest adequacy score for three of the four household types. This was not because welfare incomes are highest in Quebec, but because costs in Montreal were lower than in many other provincial cities, so welfare incomes stretched further.
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. It was typically much lower (the next highest adequacy score was 52 per cent in Winnipeg, Manitoba), and reached just 38 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.