Welfare in Canada

Ontario

Last updated: December 2021
Revised: May 2022

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

Components of welfare incomes

In Ontario, households that qualify for basic social assistance payments also qualify for:

  • Federal and provincial child benefits (for households with children); and
  • Federal and provincial tax credits or benefits.

Together, these combine 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. In 2020, these households were also eligible for benefits introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The table below shows the value of the welfare income components of the four example household types in Ontario in 2020. All four households are assumed to be living in Toronto. The child in the single parent family is two years old and the children in the couple household are ten and 15. COVID-19 pandemic-related payments are included in either the basic social assistance, child benefit, and tax credit/benefits amounts, where applicable.

Components of welfare incomes, 2020


Note: Totals may not add up due to rounding.

Total annual welfare incomes in 2020 ranged from $10,309 for the unattached single considered employable to $33,761 for the couple with two children. The income of the unattached single with a disability was $15,655 and that of the single parent with one child was $23,360.

Basic social assistance: All households received Ontario Works (OW) benefits except for the unattached single with a disability who received Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) benefits. Monthly basic benefit amounts were unchanged in 2020.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ontario initially provided a one-time Emergency Benefit payment of up to $100 for unattached singles and $200 for families in March or April. This benefit was later extended and provided monthly between May and July. Households were required to request the benefit through their caseworkers and fewer than 50 per cent of recipients received it. The Support for Learners, Support for Families, and Ontario COVID-19 Child Benefit, administered through the Ministry of Education, were also available by application. Data about the take-up rate of these benefits by social assistance recipients is not currently available. The amounts of these benefits are not included in the analysis because Welfare in Canada methodology only includes benefits that were either automatically provided to all recipients or, if discretionary, were received by more than half of eligible recipients.

Additional social assistance: No recurring additional social assistance benefits were available to the example households in 2020.

Federal child benefits: Both households with children received the Canada Child Benefit (CCB), which increased with inflation in July 2020 from $553.25 to $563.75 per month for a child under six years of age and from $466.83 to $475.67 per month for a child aged six to 17. In addition, they benefited from a one-time COVID-19 pandemic-related CCB top-up payment of $300 per child in May 2020.

Provincial child benefits: Both households with children received the Ontario Child Benefit, which increased with inflation from $119.50 to $121.75 per month per child in July 2020.

Federal tax credits / benefits: All four households received the GST/HST credit, which increased in July 2020 with inflation. The unattached single considered employable and the unattached single with a disability both received $293, the single parent with one child received $586, and the couple with two children received $894. The unattached single with a disability also received $89.10 through the GST/HST credit supplement, while the single parent with one child received the full amount of $154.

A one-time COVID-19 pandemic-related GST/HST credit top-up payment, delivered in April 2020, provided the basic amount of $290 to both the unattached single considered employable and the unattached single with a disability. The single parent with one child received $733 and the couple with two children received $886.

All four households also received the new federal climate action incentive (CAI) payment. The unattached single considered employable and the unattached single with a disability received the basic CAI payment amount for Ontario of $224. The single parent with one child received the basic amount plus the single parent’s qualified dependant amount of $112, for a total of $336. The couple with two children received the basic amount, a spouse amount of $112, and the qualified dependant amount of $56 for each child, for a total of $448.

Provincial tax credits / benefits: All four households received the Ontario Trillium Benefit, which increased with inflation in July 2020. The unattached single considered employable received $58.08 per month from January to June and $59.50 per month from July to December. The unattached single with a disability received $60.17 per month from January to June and $61.58 per month from July to December. The single parent with one child received $88.67 from January to June and $90.83 from July to December. The couple with two children received $142.25 per month from January to June and $145.75 per month from July to December.

COVID-19 pandemic-related payments

All pandemic-related payments available to the example Ontario households came from federal programs (i.e., the GST/HST credit and Canada Child Benefit). In total, the unattached single considered employable and the unattached single with a disability received an additional $290 related to the pandemic, while the single parent with one child received $1,033 and the couple with two children received $1,486. These amounts are included in, and are not in addition to, the benefits described in the Components section above. Please see the “Components of welfare” section above for information about Ontario’s COVID-19 pandemic-related benefits.

COVID-19 pandemic-related payments, 2020

 

Changes to welfare incomes

The graphs below show how the total welfare incomes for each of the four example household types in Ontario have changed over time. Note that the values are in 2020 constant dollars, and not in nominal dollars. This takes into account the effect of inflation as measured by the national consumer price index given that inflation reduces real dollar values over time.

Regular increases to the welfare incomes of unattached singles through the late 1980s and early 1990s ended in 1995. Welfare incomes declined in value thereafter until 2008, when a general gradual increase began.

After two years of stagnation after 2017, the welfare incomes of unattached singles increased in 2020 when they stood at $10,309 for the unattached single considered employable and $15,655 for the unattached single with a disability. Both figures were considerably below the peaks in the 1990s. The small increase in 2020 was primarily due to federal COVID-19 pandemic-related payments and the introduction of the federal climate action incentive.

Similar to the trend for unattached single households, welfare incomes for households with children saw a sharp decrease starting in 1995, after increases in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Welfare incomes declined further until the mid- 2000s when they began to gradually increase. Stagnation between 2010 and 2015 was followed by increases due to changes to federal child benefits. An increase in 2020, due primarily to federal COVID-19 pandemic-related payments and the introduction of the federal climate action incentive, blunted decreases between 2017 and 2019.

In 2020, the single parent with one child received $23,360, while the couple with two children aged ten and 15 received $33,761. These amounts were below the early 1990s peaks but higher than incomes in 1986 at the start of the time series.

Adequacy of welfare incomes

The adequacy of a household’s total welfare income can be assessed by comparing it to a set threshold of poverty and/or low income.

In Canada, there are two commonly used measures of poverty:

  • Canada’s Official Poverty Line, 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.
  • Deep Income Poverty (MBM-DIP) identifies households whose disposable income is less than 75 per cent of the MBM.

There are also two commonly used measures of low income:

  • The Low Income Measure (LIM) identifies households whose income is substantially below what is typical in society (less than half of the median income).
  • 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.

Note that MBM thresholds vary by province and community size and LICO thresholds vary by community size, and so those for Toronto are used in the analysis below. As well, both the MBM and LIM thresholds are estimates based on increasing the 2019 thresholds to account for inflation.

Note also that none of the poverty or low-income measures currently in use in Canada account for the higher cost of living faced by persons with disabilities, and thus these additional costs are not reflected in our analysis.

More information about the thresholds is available in the methodology section.

A table containing comparisons of the welfare incomes of the four example household types in Ontario with all four poverty / low-income thresholds is available for download.

Poverty threshold comparisons

The figures below compare welfare incomes for the four example household types to the MBM and MBM-DIP thresholds for Toronto.

The welfare incomes of all four example household types in Ontario were below, and in one case less than half of, Canada’s Official Poverty Line in 2020, meaning all these households were living in poverty. All four households were also living in deep poverty in 2020, as defined by the MBM-DIP.

The unattached single considered employable had the lowest income relative to the poverty thresholds. Their income was $8,233 below the deep income poverty threshold and $14,414 below the poverty line. This means their income was only 56 per cent of the MBM-DIP and only 42 per cent of the MBM.

The unattached single with a disability fared better, with an income that was $2,887 below the deep income poverty threshold and $9,067 below the poverty line. This means their income was 84 per cent of the MBM-DIP and 63 per cent of the MBM.

Note that the poverty experienced by persons with disabilities is under-represented given that neither the MBM nor the MBM-DIP account for the additional costs of disability.

The single parent with one child had a welfare income that was $2,863 below the deep income poverty threshold and $11,604 below the poverty line. This means their income was 89 per cent of the MBM-DIP and 67 per cent of the MBM.

The couple with two children had the highest income relative to the poverty thresholds. Their income was $3,323 below the deep income poverty threshold and $15,684 below the poverty line. In other words, their income was 91 per cent of the MBM-DIP and 68 per cent of the MBM.

Low-income threshold comparisons

The welfare incomes of these households were also below, and in one instance lower than half of, the low-income thresholds, as shown in the table linked above.

The unattached single considered employable had the lowest relative income, ranging between 41 per cent of the LIM and 47 per cent of the LICO. The couple with two children had the highest income relative to the LIM, at 67 per cent, while their income relative to the LICO was 81 per cent. The single parent with one child had the highest income relative to the LICO, at 87 per cent, while their income was 65 per cent of the LIM. The unattached single with a disability had an income that was 62 per cent of the LIM and 71 per cent of the LICO.

Changes to adequacy of welfare incomes

The graph below shows the total welfare incomes of each of the four example household types in Ontario since 2002 as a percentage of the MBM, which indicates changes in their level of poverty over time. A rise in the trendline indicates an improvement in their level of poverty while a decline indicates a worsening of their poverty.

Note that the MBM thresholds reflect the base in use in each year in question (i.e., the 2000, 2008, and 2018 bases, the latter two are indicated with vertical lines in each graph). Rebasing creates a sufficiently higher threshold than that using a previous base, which typically results in a worsening of poverty in the year in which the new base is used. As noted above, MBM thresholds vary by province and community size, and so Toronto is used. Also note that the 2020 MBM thresholds are estimates. More information is in the methodology section.

The welfare income of the unattached single considered employable declined relative to the MBM across the time series. After starting at 45 per cent in 2002, their relative income remained essentially the same through 2007. The 2008 MBM rebasing resulted in a worsening of their poverty, to 41 per cent of the poverty line. Their income then stayed essentially the same, increasing to the highest value across the time series of 46 per cent in 2017. This was followed by a worsening, to 40 per cent, with the 2018 MBM rebasing. In 2020, their welfare income increased slightly to 42 per cent of the poverty line.

The welfare income of the unattached single with a disability started the time series at the highest value relative to the poverty line of all four example households, at 78 per cent, but saw a steady decline to 2020, meaning their level of poverty worsened over time. Rebasing of the MBM in both 2008 and 2018 resulted in sharp declines. Their income reached a low of 61 per cent in 2019, followed by a small increase in 2020, to 63 per cent of the poverty line.

The welfare incomes of the households with children followed a very similar trajectory relative to the poverty line across the time series, which was a general rise between 2002 and 2017, a sharp decline with the 2018 MBM rebasing, and some degree of progress between 2019 and 2020.

The welfare income of the single parent with one child made only slight progress across the time series, with several fluctuations in between. It moved from 65 to 71 per cent of the poverty line between 2002 and 2007 and then back down to 65 per cent with the 2008 MBM rebasing. Their income then increased, with some fluctuations, to a peak of 72 per cent in 2017. The 2018 MBM rebasing saw their income decline to 63 per cent, with their 2020 income standing at 67 per cent of the poverty line.

The welfare income of the couple with two children generally improved across the time series. It moved from 61 to 64 per cent between 2002 and 2007, with the 2008 MBM rebasing resulting in a decline to 59 per cent. General improvement, with some fluctuations, to a peak of 74 per cent in 2017 was followed by a worsening of poverty with the 2018 MBM rebasing, to 64 per cent. 2020 saw small improvements, with their income standing at 68 per cent of the poverty line.