Welfare in Canada

Canada

Last updated: December 2021
Revised: May 2022

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 2020

Individuals and families who qualify for basic social assistance benefits are also eligible for financial support through refundable 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 varies in every province and territory because each jurisdiction has distinct social assistance programs, and each has its own refundable tax credit and benefit programs.

The table below shows the maximum total welfare incomes that four example households would have received in 2020 in each of Canada’s ten provinces. The child in the single parent family is two years old and the children in the couple household are ten and 15.

Total welfare incomes in each province in 2020

* The higher total welfare income amount is for the unattached single with a disability who is eligible for Alberta’s Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) program; the lower amount is for the unattached single with a disability who is eligible for Alberta’s Barriers to Full Employment (BFE) program.

Unattached single considered employable: The highest total welfare income of an unattached single considered employable was in Quebec, at $13,005, followed by Prince Edward Island, at $12,968, and British Columbia, at $12,852. These jurisdictions are followed by a cluster of five provinces with welfare incomes between $11,704 and $9,967. Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have the lowest welfare incomes, at $7,920 and $7,643, respectively.

Unattached single with a disability: Alberta had the highest welfare income for an unattached single with a disability, at $21,554, through its Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) program. British Columbia had the second highest at $18,644; Newfoundland and Labrador had the third highest, at $18,226. Five provinces followed with welfare incomes between $16,564 and $13,727. The three lowest welfare incomes for this household were for those receiving benefits through Alberta’s Barriers to Full Employment program, at $11,430, Nova Scotia, at $11,092, and New Brunswick, at $10,411.

Single parent with one child: British Columbia had the highest welfare income for a single parent with one child, at $26,049. Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan had the next highest, at $25,256 and $24,944 respectively. A cluster of five provinces followed, with welfare incomes between $24,766 and $23,360. The lowest welfare incomes for this household were in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, at $21,293 and $20,009, respectively.

Couple with two children: Quebec provided the highest welfare income to the couple with two children, at 40,544, followed closely by Prince Edward Island at $39,961. Five provinces followed, with welfare incomes between $36,744 and $33,289. Thereafter, Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia provided welfare incomes of $31,276 and $30,331, respectively. New Brunswick had the lowest welfare income for the couple with two children household, at $28,454.

The following table shows the same information for Canada’s three territories. It is based on the same methodology as that for the provincial figures, but the provinces and territories 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 2020

Welfare incomes in Yukon and the Northwest Territories were generally higher than in the provinces, reflecting the higher cost of living in the territories. However, welfare incomes in Nunavut were considerably lower than in the other two territories, reflecting in part the high proportion of households on social assistance living in subsidized housing whose living costs were reduced through housing subsidies.1

Note 1

See the “Components of welfare incomes” and “Changes to welfare incomes” sections of the Nunavut analysis in this report for further information.

COVID-19 pandemic-related payments

A number of additional financial supports were made available to households in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The “About Welfare in Canada” section outlines the method we used to determine which benefits are included in these calculations and how we have accounted for benefit changes related to the COVID-19 pandemic in order to identify the total welfare income of a typical household in receipt of social assistance. Note that the COVID-19 pandemic-related payment amounts are included in the “Total welfare incomes in 2020” section above.

COVID-19 pandemic-related payments in each province and territory in 2020

Legend:

white squareCOVID-19 pandemic-related payments from only the federal government
blue square

COVID-19 pandemic-related payments from both the respective provincial/territorial government and the federal government

*The higher amount is for an unattached single with a disability who is eligible for Alberta’s Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) program; the lower amount is for an unattached single with a disability who is eligible for that province’s Barriers to Full Employment (BFE) program.

  • All household types in all 13 provinces and territories received COVID-19 pandemic-related payments from the federal government, through increases to both the GST/HST credit and the Canada Child Benefit. These payments amounted to $290 for both the unattached single considered employable and the unattached single with a disability households, $1,033 for single parents with one child, and $1,486 for couples with two children. The only exceptions are the unattached single considered employable and the unattached single with a disability in Yukon, and the unattached single with a disability receiving AISH in Alberta, who all received higher GST/HST credit supplement amounts due to higher previous years’ incomes.
  • Five provinces and one territory provided additional COVID-19 pandemic-related payments that were consistent with Welfare in Canada methodology and thus included in the analysis. In Manitoba, these payments were only available to the unattached single with a disability, unlike in the five other jurisdictions where they were available to all four household types.
  • Of the six subnational jurisdictions providing COVID-19 pandemic-related payments, British Columbia had the highest, with an additional $2,875 to both the unattached single considered employable and the unattached single with a disability, $3,049 to the single parent with one child, and $5,852 to the couple with two children. The second highest was the Northwest Territories, with an additional $675 to both the unattached single considered employable and the unattached single with a disability, $1,323 for the single parent with one child, and $1,567 for the couple with two children.
  • The other four jurisdictions offered more modest COVID-19 pandemic-related payments, ranging between $50 and $400 for the year.
  • Ontario’s Emergency Benefit for households on social assistance and other benefits provided through the Ministry of Education (Support for Learners, Support for Families, and the Ontario COVID-19 Child Benefit) are not included in this analysis due to Welfare in Canada methodology. See the Ontario “Components of welfare incomes” section for more information.

Changes to welfare incomes in 2020

The two tables below compare total welfare incomes in the provinces and the territories in 2020 with those in 2019 without adjusting for inflation. For context, the cost of living increased by 0.7 per cent in 2020 (based on the national rate of inflation).2 As such, households whose welfare incomes increased by less than 0.7 per cent would have been worse off in 2020 than in the previous year.

Note 2

Statistics Canada, January 2021. “Consumer Price Index, annual average, not seasonally adjusted.” Accessed at: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/t1/tbl1/en/cv.action?pid=1810000501

Families with low incomes experienced a considerable increase in their cost of living in 2020 due to the closure of low-cost or free services due to the COVID-19 pandemic.3  While the CPI measure of inflation reflects changes in consumption patterns and remains the most robust indicator of changes to living costs, it is important to recognize that the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the living costs of different households in very different ways depending on their circumstances and income.

Note 3

Change in total welfare income between 2019 and 2020 in each province

* The lower amount represents the change in the total welfare income of an unattached single with a disability who is eligible for Alberta’s Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) program; the higher amount represents the change for an unattached single with a disability who is eligible for Alberta’s Barriers to Full Employment (BFE) program.

Download the data in a table

  • Welfare incomes rose by more than the cost of living for all 41 households in the ten provinces between 2019 and 2020. The highest percentage increase was for the unattached single with a disability in Newfoundland and Labrador, at 57.3 per cent. However, this significant increase is largely due to a change in the way income was calculated for the purposes of this report, rather than a jurisdictional policy change.4 Three other households had percentage increases above 30 per cent – the unattached single considered employable and the couple with two children in British Columbia and the unattached single considered employable in Saskatchewan. The increases in British Columbia were largely due to the addition of significant COVID-19 pandemic-related payments and those in Saskatchewan were due to a change in benefit amounts resulting from a new basic social assistance program. The smaller, but still significant, increases seen in Prince Edward Island were due to increases in basic social assistance amounts, as noted below. The lowest increase was for the income of the unattached single considered employable in Newfoundland and Labrador, at 2.6 per cent.

    Note 4

    See the “Components of welfare incomes” and “Changes to welfare incomes” sections of the Newfoundland and Labrador analysis in this report for further information.
  • Federal COVID-19 pandemic-related payments were received by the example households in all ten provinces as one-time top-ups. The GST/HST credit top-up was provided to all 41 households, with $290 going to both unattached single households, $733 to single parents with one child, and $866 to the couple with two children households (with the exception of the unattached single with a disability in Alberta receiving AISH, who was provided with $443). In addition, all 20 households with children received a Canada Child Benefit top-up worth $300 per child.
  • The federal government also provided payments for the new climate action incentive (CAI) program available to households in four provinces – Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, and Saskatchewan. These payments vary by household and province and, unlike the COVID-19 pandemic-related payments, will continue to be provided in future.
  • Five provinces provided COVID-19 pandemic-related payments that were consistent with Welfare in Canada methodology and thus included in the analysis – British Columbia, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Saskatchewan. (Note that Ontario’s benefits are not included. See the Ontario “Components of welfare incomes” section for more information). With the exception of Manitoba, payments were made available to all four household types. British Columbia provided the highest payments by a significant margin, through two programs. All four households received a COVID-19 Crisis Supplement of $300 per month per adult between April and December through Income Assistance or Disability Assistance. They also received a one-time COVID-19 pandemic top-up to the BC Climate Action Tax Credit of $174.50 per adult or first child in a single parent family, and $51.50 for any additional children. In Manitoba, only one household – the unattached single with a disability – received a pandemic-related payment, in the form of a one-time $200 top-up to the basic social assistance benefit. The other three provinces provided a one-time top-up to social assistance recipients: $50 per individual in Nova Scotia, $100 per family member in Prince Edward Island, and $50 per adult in Saskatchewan.
  • In Saskatchewan, three households (except the unattached single with a disability) qualified for the Saskatchewan Income Support (SIS) program, a new program introduced in July 2019 that replaced the Saskatchewan Assistance Program (SAP) and the Transitional Employment Assistance (TEA) program. The basic SIS benefit amounts were higher than those of the TEA program.
  • Four provinces increased basic or additional social assistance benefit amounts. In Manitoba, as part of that province’s additional social assistance benefits, Rent Assist amounts were increased for all households except unattached singles considered employable under age 55. In New Brunswick, basic social assistance benefits for both unattached single households increased slightly and were indexed to inflation. In Nova Scotia, Personal Allowance and Shelter Allowance benefits were combined into the new Standard Household Rate, which resulted in an increase to basic social assistance benefits of two per cent for all households except the single parent with one child who saw an increase of five per cent. In Prince Edward Island, basic social assistance benefit amounts increased for the fourth consecutive year. Excluding COVID-19 pandemic-related benefits, the increases between 2019 and 2020 ranged from 10 per cent for the unattached single with a disability to 13 per cent for the couple with two children.
  • British Columbia also increased the annual amounts of an existing refundable tax credit. The BC Climate Action Tax Credit increased in 2020 from $154.50 annually to $174 for each adult and the first child in a single parent family, and from $45.50 to $51 for any additional children.
  • Amounts from the two federal programs – GST/HST tax credit and the Canada Child Benefit – were slightly higher in 2020 from automatic annual inflationary increases. Similar increases to provincial programs occurred in some, but not all, jurisdictions. Of note, only two provinces have indexed basic social assistance benefits to inflation: New Brunswick and Quebec.

Change in total welfare income between 2019 and 2020 in each territory

Download the data in a table

  • In 2020, welfare incomes rose at a rate above inflation for all households in the three territories. The highest increase was for the couple with two children household in the Northwest Territories at 7.4 per cent. The lowest increase was for the unattached single with a disability household in Nunavut at 2.7 per cent.
  • As in the provinces, all households in all three territories received one-time top-up COVID-19 pandemic-related payments through federal tax credits and benefits. All households received the GST/HST tax credit top-up, and all households with children received the Canada Child Benefit top-up.
  • The Northwest Territories was the only territory to provide COVID-19 pandemic-related payments. Through basic social assistance, the territorial government provided a one-time emergency allowance of $500 for unattached single households or $1,000 for households of more than one person. In addition, all four households received the Furnishing Allowance given a policy decision to enroll all clients in the "Wellness: Self-Care" Productive Choice activity option in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Amounts from the two federal programs – GST/HST tax credit and the Canada Child Benefit – were slightly higher in 2020 from automatic annual inflationary increases. Similar increases to territorial programs occurred in some, but not all, jurisdictions. Notably, of the three territories, only Yukon has indexed basic social assistance benefits to inflation.

Adequacy of welfare incomes across Canada

The table below looks at how the 2020 welfare incomes of each example household type in the provinces compared to Canada’s Official Poverty Line, the Market Basket Measure (MBM), and the deep income poverty threshold (MBM-DIP).

The deep income poverty threshold is equivalent to 75 per cent of the Official Poverty Line. It was introduced in this year’s Welfare in Canada report to measure how each household’s welfare income related to this much more modest threshold. As noted in a recent report from the Institute of Research on Public Policy, “Living in deep poverty means that individuals and families must use all of their income to meet basic necessities such as shelter and food, making it virtually impossible to address other needs or plan for their future.”5

Note 5

Herd, Dean, Yuna Kim, and Christine Carrasco, September 2020. “Canada’s Forgotten Poor? Putting Singles Living in Deep Poverty on the Policy Radar.” Institute for Research on Public Policy. Accessed at: https://irpp.org/research-studies/canadas-forgotten-poor-putting-singles- living-in-deep-poverty-on-the-policy-radar/
 

To demonstrate the range across Canada’s provinces, the table below shows the provinces with the highest and lowest welfare incomes relative to the two poverty thresholds. The total welfare income and both poverty thresholds in the table are for the most populated city in each province.

As noted in the “Introduction,” the territories are not included in this adequacy analysis because Statistics Canada does not currently produce poverty thresholds for the territories, and these poverty thresholds do not take into consideration all the additional costs of living that are associated with having a disability.

Highest and lowest adequacy of welfare incomes among provinces in 2020

Download the data in a table

  • The welfare incomes of all 41 households in all ten provinces were below Canada’s Official Poverty Line. This means that all 41 households were living in poverty in 2020. The closest was in Quebec, where the welfare income of a couple with two children living in Montreal reached 98 per cent of the poverty threshold.
  • 32 of the 41 example households receiving social assistance in the provinces were living in deep poverty in 2020 which, while an improvement over the 37 of 41 in 2019, represents fully 78 per cent of the households. It is worth noting that, of these 32 households, the incomes of seven were between 95 and 100 per cent of the deep income poverty threshold. However, many of the improvements in adequacy in 2020 were due to one-off increases coming from COVID-19 pandemic-related payments, as well as a low inflation rate. The incomes of the remaining twenty-five households were between 46 and 94 per cent of the deep income poverty threshold.
  • Unattached single considered employable: Welfare incomes for the unattached single considered employable households were particularly low. Even the highest, in Quebec for those living in Montreal, amounted to just 63 per cent of the Official Poverty Line. Total welfare incomes in all other jurisdictions were even lower; as low as 34 per cent of the poverty line in Nova Scotia for those living in Halifax. As well, all unattached single considered employable households in all ten provinces were living in deep poverty, with incomes that were below the deep income poverty threshold; none were even close to that threshold.
  • Unattached single with a disability: Among the unattached single with a disability households, the one receiving benefits through Alberta’s Barriers to Full Employment benefits had the least adequate welfare income, which amounted to just 46 per cent of the poverty line for the household living in Calgary. Conversely, the unattached single with a disability who was eligible for Alberta’s Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) program had the most adequate welfare income, which amounted to 86 per cent of the poverty line for the household living in Calgary. Unattached single with a disability households had welfare incomes above their respective deep income poverty thresholds in only two provinces: Alberta for those receiving AISH and Newfoundland and Labrador. Note that in British Columbia and Quebec the welfare incomes of unattached single with a disability households were between 95 and 100 per cent of their respective deep income poverty thresholds.
  • Single parent with one child: The single parent with one child living in Halifax, Nova Scotia received the least adequate welfare income, at 61 per cent of the poverty line. The single parent with one child living in Montreal, Quebec received the most adequate welfare income, at 81 per cent of the poverty line. The welfare income of the single parent in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island was also 81 per cent of the poverty line – behind Quebec by decimals. In half the provinces – Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, and Saskatchewan – the welfare incomes of the single parent with one child households were above the deep income poverty thresholds.
  • Couple with two children: The couple with two children living in Montreal, Quebec had the most adequate welfare income among all the household types in the ten provinces, at 130 per cent of the deep income poverty threshold and 98 per cent of the poverty line in Montreal. The couple with two children living in Halifax, Nova Scotia received the least adequate welfare income, at 87 per cent of the deep income poverty threshold and 65 per cent of the poverty line. The couple with two children households had welfare incomes above their respective deep income poverty thresholds in two provinces, Quebec and Prince Edward Island. Note that in four other provinces – Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan – the welfare incomes of the couple with two children households were between 95 and 100 per cent of their respective deep income poverty thresholds.