Welfare in Canada

Last updated: November 2020

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

In Nova Scotia, households that qualify for basic social assistance payments also qualify for other financial support, including:

  • Recurring additional social assistance payments (for example, an annual back-to-school allowance);
  • Federal and provincial child benefits (for households with children);
  • The GST/HST credit and credit supplements; and
  • Provincial tax credits or benefits.

Together, these combine with basic social assistance payments to form a household’s total welfare income. Households may receive less if they have income from other sources, or more if they have special health- or disability-related needs.

The table below shows the value and components of welfare incomes for four example household types in 2019. All four households are assumed to be living in Halifax. The child in the single parent family is aged two, and the children in the couple household are aged 10 and 15.

 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  $6,568$11,083
Provincial child benefits  $625$1,450
GST/HST credit$287$295$725$876
Provincial tax credits/benefits$255$255$315$375
Total 2019 income$7,442$10,270$18,372$27,974

Note: Totals may not add up due to rounding.

Download the data in a table

Total annual welfare incomes in 2019 ranged from $7,442 for a single person considered employable to $27,974 for a couple with two children.

Basic social assistance benefit amounts were unchanged from 2018.

On top of basic social assistance, the couple with children received additional social assistance benefits, as shown in the table. The annual School Supplies Supplement provided $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 line with inflation in July 2019 from $541 to $553.25 per month for a child under 6 years of age, and from $457 to $466.83 per month for a child aged 6 to 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 four households received the GST/HST credit, which increased in July 2019 in line with inflation. The single person considered employable and the single person with a disability both received $287, while the single parent with one child received $574 and the couple with two children received $876. The single parent also received the full GST/HST credit supplement of $151 and the person with a disability received a partial supplement of $8.19.

All four households also received the Nova Scotia Affordable Living Tax Credit which provided $255 per single adult or couple and $60 per child.


Changes to welfare incomes

The graphs below show how the total welfare incomes for each of the four example household types have changed over time. The values are in constant 2019 dollars, taking into account the effect of inflation as measured by the national consumer price index.

Download the data in a table

  • The total welfare income for a single person considered employable dropped noticeably in 1997 due to the amalgamation of the municipal and provincial social assistance systems. This removed geographical variations in social assistance rates across the province. As a result, recipients in the City of Halifax (where the example households reside) received considerably less than before the amalgamation.

  • Since 1997, the welfare income of a single person considered employable has hovered around the $7,000 mark. In 2019 it stood at $7,442.

  • Single persons with disabilities have seen a steady decline in total welfare income over time. In 2019, it stood at $10,270, only $3,000 more than that of their single employable counterparts and considerably lower than the 1991 high of $14,291.

Download the data in a table

  • The welfare income of a single parent with one child has stayed fairly steady over the past three decades while that of a couple with children has seen more fluctuations.

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

  • In 2019, the welfare income of a single parent household was $18,372, lower than its 1991 peak of $19,652 but higher than its 2005 low of $16,418. For a couple with two children, the 2019 welfare income was $27,974, almost $900 below the 2017 peak of $28,852.


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, the Market Basket Measure (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 (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 (LICO) identifies households that are likely to spend a disproportionately large share of their income on the necessities of food, clothing, and shelter.

 Single person considered employableSingle person with a disabilitySingle parent, one childCouple, two children
Total welfare income$7,442$10,270$18,372$27,974
MBM threshold (Halifax)$22,936$22,936$32,436$45,872
Welfare income minus MBM threshold-$15,494-$12,666-$14,064-$17,898
Welfare income as % of MBM32%45%57%61%
LIM threshold (Canada-wide)$24,642$24,642$34,850$49,285
Welfare income minus LIM threshold-$17,200-$14,372-$16,477-$21,311
Welfare income as % of LIM30%42%53%57%
LICO threshold (Halifax)$18,520$18,520$22,540$35,017
Welfare income minus LICO threshold-$11,078-$8,250-$4,168-$7,043
Welfare income as % of LICO40%56%82%80%

Download the data in a table

The maximum 2019 welfare incomes of all four example household types were below, and sometimes far below, the thresholds of every low-income measure. Households with children had incomes closer to the thresholds than single persons.

The lowest income relative to the thresholds was that of a single person considered employable, who had a total income of between 30 and 40 per cent of the low-income thresholds. Overall, a couple family with two children had the highest income relative to the thresholds, between 57 and 80 per cent, although that of a single parent with one child was comparable at between 53 and 82 per cent. The single person with a disability fared slightly better than the single person considered employable, with an income of between 42 and 56 per cent of the thresholds.

Given that the MBM is Canada’s official poverty measure, and that having an income less than 75 per cent of the MBM is classified as “deep poverty,” all four of the example households would have been living in deep poverty in 2019.

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