Welfare in Canada

Last updated: November 2019

This resource is not intended to help individuals identify what government transfers they could be entitled to. Individuals living in Nova Scotia seeking financial assistance should visit this page.


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 Halifax in 2018.

 Single person considered employableSingle person with a disability*Single parent, one childCouple, two children
Basic social assistance$6,900$9,720$10,140$14,040
Additional SA benefits   $150
Federal child benefits  $6,448$10,881
Provincial child benefits  $625$1,450
GST credit$282$293$712$860
Provincial tax credits/benefits$255$255$315$375
Total 2018 income$7,437$10,268$18,240$27,756

Download the data in a table

Total welfare incomes in Nova Scotia ranged from $7,437 for the single person considered employable to $27,756 for the couple with two children.

On top of basic social assistance, the couple with children received additional social assistance benefits, as shown in the table. They received the annual School Supplies Supplement of $50 for the 10-year-old and $100 for the 15-year-old.

Both households with children received the Canada Child Benefit which increased in July 2018 from $533 to $541 per month for a child under the age of six and from $450 to $457 per month for a child aged between six and 17. They also received the Nova Scotia Child Benefit of $52.08 per month for the first child and $68.75 per month for the second child.

All households received the GST credit, which increased in July 2018 in line with inflation, and the Nova Scotia Affordable Living Tax Credit.


Changes to welfare incomes

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 2018 dollars, taking into account the effect of inflation as measured by the national consumer price index.

Download the data in a table

  • Single persons considered employable had higher welfare incomes in the early 1990s because, prior to 1997, social assistance rates for the City of Halifax were considerably higher than those paid in other municipalities. In April 1996, the municipal and provincial social assistance systems were amalgamated, and a uniform rate was paid to single persons considered employable across the province.

  • Welfare income for the single person considered employable has remained fairly constant since the mid-2000s; in 2018, it stood at $7,437.

  • Single persons with disabilities have seen a steady decline in their welfare incomes over time. In 2018, it stood at $10,268, considerably lower than the 1989 figure of nearly $14,000.

Download the data in a table

  • The welfare incomes of both the single parent and the couple with children have gone up and down over the past three decades, with the changes for single parents being more pronounced.

  • From 2015 to 2017, the maximum welfare incomes of households with children rose, largely as a result of changes to federal child benefits.

  • In 2018, the welfare incomes of both household types decreased. For the single parent household it stood at $18,240, still below the amounts paid in the late 1980s and early 1990s. For the couple with children it stood at $27,756.


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 official poverty measure (also known as the Market Basket Measure or MBM) 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 Nova Scotia for the four household types compared to three low income thresholds (after tax). Because LICO and MBM thresholds vary by community size, the threshold used is for Halifax.

 Single person considered employableSingle person with a disabilitySingle parent, one childCouple, two children
Total welfare income$7,437 $10,268 $18,240 $27,756
MBM threshold (Halifax)$19,124 $19,124 $27,046 $38,248
Welfare income minus MBM threshold-$11,687 -$8,856 -$8,806 -$10,492
Welfare income as % of MBM39% 54% 67% 73%
LIM threshold (Canada-wide)$24,054 $24,054 $34,017 $48,108
Welfare income minus LIM threshold-$16,617-$13,786-$15,777 -$20,352
Welfare income as % of LIM31% 43% 54% 58%
LICO threshold (Halifax)$18,166 $18,166 $22,109 $34,347
Welfare income minus LICO threshold-$10,729 -$7,898 -$3,869 -$6,591
Welfare income as % of LICO41% 57% 83% 81%

Download the data in a table

For each household type, the maximum welfare income fell well below all of the low income measures. As a proportion, the biggest gap was for single adults considered employable — their welfare income was between 31 per cent and 41 per cent of the low income thresholds. The welfare income of single parents with one child and couples with two children both reached just over 80 per cent of the LICO, but amounted to a much lower share of the MBM and LIM.

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