Welfare in Canada
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Last updated: November 2020
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 other financial support, including:
- Federal and provincial child benefits (for households with children);
- The GST/HST credit and 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 Toronto. 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 employable||Single person with a disability*||Single parent, one child||Couple, two children|
|Basic social assistance||$8,796||$14,028||$12,024||$15,000|
|Additional SA benefits|
|Federal child benefits||$6,568||$11,083|
|Provincial child benefits||$1,419||$2,837|
|Provincial tax credits/benefits||$690||$715||$1,053||$1,689|
|Total 2019 income||$9,773||$15,118||$21,788||$31,485|
Note: Totals may not add up due to rounding.
Total annual welfare incomes in 2019 ranged from $9,773 for the single person considered employable to $31,485 for the couple with two children.
All households received benefits from Ontario Works (OW) except for the single person with a disability who received benefits from the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). Basic social assistance benefit amounts were unchanged from 2018.
No recurring additional social assistance benefits were available to the example households.
Both households with children received the Canada Child Benefit, which increased 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 Ontario Child Benefit, which increased with inflation from $116.92 to $119.50 per month per child in July 2019.
All four households received the GST/HST credit, which increased with inflation in July 2019. 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 person with a disability also received $88.91 through the GST/HST credit supplement while the single parent received the full amount of $151.
All four households also received the Ontario Trillium Benefit, the provincial tax credit, which increased with inflation in July 2019.
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.
Regular increases to the welfare incomes of single persons through the late 1980s and early 1990s ended in 1995, when basic social assistance benefits for single persons considered employable were cut and those for persons with disabilities were frozen. In the following decade, welfare incomes fell in value. Since 2005, welfare incomes remained relatively flat except for a gradual increase for single persons considered employable between 2012 and 2017.
The welfare incomes of single persons have fallen in value in the two years to 2019 when they stood at $9,773 for a single person considered employable and $15,118 for a single person with a disability. Both figures were considerably below the peaks in the 1990s.
Welfare incomes for households with children increased in the late 1980s and early 1990s until a sharp decrease in 1995. Welfare incomes receded further until the mid-2000s when they began to gradually increase. The larger increase from 2015 to 2017 were the result of changes to federal child benefits.
In 2019, a single parent with one child received $21,788 in welfare income. A couple with two children aged 10 and 15 received $31,485.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
The table below shows how welfare incomes for the four example household types compared to the three low-income thresholds (after tax). Because LICO and MBM thresholds vary by community size, the threshold used for each is for Toronto.
|Single person considered employable||Single person with a disability||Single parent, one child||Couple, two children|
|Total welfare income||$9,773||$15,118||$21,788||$31,485|
|MBM threshold (Toronto)||$24,563||$24,563||$34,737||$49,125|
|Welfare income minus MBM threshold||-$14,791||-$9,445||-$12,950||-$17,641|
|Welfare income as % of MBM||40%||62%||63%||64%|
|LIM threshold (Canada-wide)||$24,642||$24,642||$34,850||$49,285|
|Welfare income minus LIM threshold||-$14,870||-$9,524||-$13,062||-$17,800|
|Welfare income as % of LIM||40%||61%||63%||64%|
|LICO threshold (Toronto)||$21,899||$21,899||$26,653||$41,406|
|Welfare income minus LICO threshold||-$12,260||-$9,249||-$4,307||-$10,820|
|Welfare income as % of LICO||44%||58%||84%||74%|
The maximum 2019 welfare incomes of all four example household types were below the thresholds of every low-income measure. The single person with a disability and both households with children had incomes closer to the thresholds than those of single person considered employable.
The lowest income relative to the thresholds was that of a single person considered employable, who had a total income of between 40 and 44 per cent of the thresholds. A single person with a disability fared slightly better, with an income of between 58 and 62 per cent of the thresholds. The highest income relative to the thresholds was that of a single parent with one child, whose total income was between 63 and 84 per cent of the thresholds. The income of the couple with two children was similar, at between 64 and 74 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.