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 Ontario 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 Toronto in 2018.

 Single person considered employableSingle person with a disability*Single parent, one childCouple, two children
Basic social assistance$8,688$13,884$11,880$14,820
Additional SA benefits    
Federal child benefits  $6,448$10,881
Provincial child benefits  $1,391$2,781
GST credit$282$369$712$860
Provincial tax credits/benefits$676$701$1,032$1,656
Total 2018 income$9,646$14,954$21,463$30,998

Download the data in a table

Total welfare incomes in Ontario ranged from $9,646 for the single person considered employable to $30,998 for the couple with two children.

In Ontario, all households received Ontario Works (OW) benefits except for the single person with a disability, who received Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) benefits. The basic needs and shelter allowances, which together make up each household’s basic social assistance income, increased in September 2018 for ODSP recipients and in October 2018 for OW recipients.

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 Ontario Child Benefit which increased from $114.83 to $116.92 per month per child in July 2018.

All households received the GST credit and the Ontario Trillium Benefit, the provincial tax credit. Both increased in July 2018.


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

  • In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the welfare incomes of a single person considered employable and a single person with a disability increased regularly.

  • The welfare income of single persons considered employable dropped substantially in 1995, due to a cut of 21.6 per cent to benefit rates. For the next 13 years, rates were frozen and continued to erode in value as prices increased. Between 2009 and 2017, welfare incomes gradually increased but remained largely unchanged in 2018. A single person considered employable received $9,646 in 2018, notably below the levels of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

  • Single persons with disabilities also saw a similar but less pronounced decline in their welfare income from the mid-1990s, when rates were also frozen. In 2018, their welfare income stood at $14,954, still below the levels in the 1980s and 1990s.

Download the data in a table

  • Welfare incomes for households with children mirrored the pattern of singles, showing early increases followed by a sharp decrease in 1995, a continuing downward trend for the next decade, and then gradual increases.

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

  • In 2018, a single parent with a two-year-old child received $21,463 in welfare income. A couple with two children aged 10 and 15 received $30,998.


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 Ontario for the four household types compared to these three low income thresholds (after tax). Because LICO and MBM thresholds vary by community size, the threshold used is for Toronto.

 Single person considered employableSingle person with a disabilitySingle parent, one childCouple, two children
Total welfare income$9,646 $14,954 $21,463 $30,998
MBM threshold (Toronto)$21,207 $21,207 $29,991 $42,414
Welfare income minus MBM threshold-$11,561 -$6,253 -$8,529 -$11,417
Welfare income as % of MBM45%71%72%73%
LIM threshold (Canada-wide)$24,054 $24,054 $34,017 $48,108
Welfare income minus LIM threshold-$14,408 -$9,099 -$12,554 -$17,110
Welfare income as % of LIM40%62%63%64%
LICO threshold (Toronto)$21,481 $21,481 $26,143 $40,614
Welfare income minus LICO threshold-$11,835 -$6,527 -$4,681 -$9,617
Welfare income as % of LICO45%70%82%76%

Download the data in a table

For each household type, the maximum welfare income fell below all of the low income measures. As a proportion, the biggest gap was for single adults considered employable — their welfare income was between 40 per cent and 45 per cent of the low income thresholds. The smallest gap was for single parents with one child — their welfare income was between 63 per cent and 82 per cent of the low income thresholds.

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