Still Waiting for Recovery: A Look at the Recession's Impact on Social Assistance

Chandra's picture

We know that the recession significantly increased Canada’s poverty levels. But do Canada’s poor now risk being permanently left behind? In this series of blog posts, we’ll explore the economic indicators, updating the research in CPJ’s 2010 report on the recession, Bearing the Brunt. Check back over the next few weeks for new blog posts on each indicator!

Social assistance or welfare is the bottom layer of the Canadian social safety net, intended to catch those who have no other source of income or means of livelihood. It is, however, in most cases a poverty income. Most provinces also require recipients to divest themselves of savings and assets, and all provinces maintain limits on savings for as long as a person receives assistance. It is therefore very difficult for recipients of social assistance to make their way out of poverty.

During the recession, social assistance caseloads increased in all 10 provinces, with rates of increase ranging from 0.5% in New Brunswick to 42.7% in Alberta. Alberta, Ontario and British Columbia were particularly hard hit, as all had increases above 20%. Since the recession, caseloads in most provinces have continued to increase. In fact, all provinces experienced their peak caseload after the recession had officially ended, and most provinces actually experienced it this year. (See Table One for Change in Social Assistance Caseloads.)

A note about Saskatchwan: I have not been able to get data yet for Saskatchewan, but I will provide an update if/when I do receive that information. I understand that in the future, SK hopes to join those provinces with their data publicly available online.

The different caseload increases across the provinces reveal the close relationship between EI and social assistance. Those provinces with the lowest rates of EI coverage experienced by far the most significant increases in social assistance caseloads. Those provinces with the highest rates of EI coverage experienced comparatively lower rates of welfare caseload growth. (See Chart One for Beneficiaries/Unemployed Ratio and Change in Welfare Caseloads compared by province.)

Social Assistance by Province

Newfoundland and Labrador

  • Newfoundland and Labrador had an increase of 573 cases, or 2.4% of their caseload, during the recession. Between October 2008 and December 2010, the caseload increased 3.62% to 25,084 cases.
  • As of June 2011, the number of cases has declined slightly to 25,005.
  • The peak caseload of 25,275, reached in May 2011, was the highest caseload since July 2007.
  • The number of recipients increased 0.74% between October 2008 and December 2010, peaking at 40,058 in May 2010.
  • The average monthly caseload in 2010 was 25,050, 2.17% higher than the average monthly caseload of 24,517 in 2008.[fn]Data on NL comes from Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Human Resources, Labour and Employment, “Income Support Cases and Recipients (Number) Newfoundland and Labrador 1992-2011,” http://www.stats.gov.nl.ca/Statistics/social/PDF/Income_Support.pdf.[/fn]

Prince Edward Island

  • Prince Edward Island had an increase of 205 cases, or 6% of their caseload, during the recession. Between October 2008 and December 2010, the caseload increased 9.76% to 3,733.
  • As of April 2011, the number of cases had declined slightly to 3,715.
  • The peak caseload of 3,757, reached in January 2011, was the highest caseload since March 2006.
  • The average monthly caseload in 2010 was 3,638, 5.88% higher than the average monthly caseload of 3,436 in 2008.[fn]Data for PEI comes from Prince Edward Island’s Department of Community Services, Seniors and Labour, Social Programs.[/fn]

Nova Scotia

  • Nova Scotia had an increase of 1,131 cases, or 4.2% of their caseload, during the recession. Between October 2008 and December 2010, the caseload increased 6.3% to 28,449 cases.
  • As of June 2011, the number of cases has increased even further to 29,003.
  • The peak caseload of 29,003, reached in June 2011, was the highest caseload since May 2007.
  • The number of recipients increased 4.18% between October 2008 and December 2010, peaking at 44,546 in June 2011.
  • The average monthly caseload in 2010 was 28,315, 3.25% higher than the average monthly caseload of 27,423 in 2008.[fn]Data for NS comes from Nova Scotia’s Department of Community Services, Income Assistance.[/fn]

New Brunswick

  • New Brunswick had an increase of 98 cases, or 0.5% of their caseload, during the recession. Between October 2008 and December 2010, the caseload increased 7.43% to 24,581 cases.
  • As of July 2011, the number of cases had increased even further to 25,186.
  • The peak caseload of 25,186, reached in July 2011, was the highest caseload since May 2006.
  • The number of recipients increased 4.57% between October 2008 and December 2010, peaking at 41,197 in April 2011.
  • The average monthly caseload in 2010 was 24,275, 4.22% higher than the average monthly caseload of 23,292 in 2008.[fn]Data for NB comes from New Brunswick Department of Social Development, “Average Monthly Caseload and Recipients 2009-2010,” “Average Monthly Caseload and Recipients 2010-2011,” and “Average Monthly Caseload and Recipients 2011-12,” available at http://www2.gnb.ca/content/gnb/departments/social_development/statistics...

Quebec

  • Quebec had an increase of 8,995 cases, or 2.7% of their caseload, during the recession. Between October 2008 and December 2010, the caseload increased 2.03% to 332,692 cases.
  • As of April 2011, the number of cases had increased slightly to 335,835.
  • The peak caseload of 339,516, reached in March 2010, was the highest caseload since May 2007.
  • The number of recipients increased 1.09% between October 2008 and December 2010, peaking at 491,588 in March 2010.
  • The average monthly caseload in 2010 was 335,493, 1.41% higher than the average monthly caseload of 330,828 in 2008.[fn]Data for QC comes from Ministère de l’Emploi et de la Solidarité sociale du Québec, “Rapport statistique sur la clientele, Avril 2011,” available at http://www.mess.gouv.qc.ca/statistiques/prestataires-assistance-emploi/i...

Ontario

  • Ontario had an increase of 45,158 cases, or 23.1% of its caseload, during the recession. Between October 2008 and December 2010, the caseload increased 27.91% to 249,971 cases.
  • As of May, the number of cases had increased even further to 260,088.
  • The peak caseload of 260,088, reached in May 2011, was the highest since September 1999.
  • The number of recipients increased 22.89% between October 2008 and December 2010, peaking at 469,202 in May 2011.
  • The average monthly caseload in 2010 was 248,537, 25.81% higher than the average monthly caseload of 197,547 in 2008.
  • The number of Ontario Disability Support Program cases, which are not included in counts of Ontario Works, increased 12.52% between October 2008 and December 2010 to 279,111 cases.[fn]Data for ON comes from Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services, “Ontario Social Assistance Monthly Statistical Report, Ontario Works,” and “Ontario Social Assistance Monthly Statistical Report, Ontario Disability Support Program,” available at http://www.mcss.gov.on.ca/mcss/programs/social/reports/ow_quarterly.aspx and http://www.mcss.gov.on.ca/mcss/programs/social/reports/odsp_quarterly.as...

Manitoba

  • Manitoba had an increase of 2,866 cases, or 9.3% of its caseload, during the recession. Between October 2008 and December 2010, the caseload increased 11.46% to 34,292 cases.
  • As of May, the number of cases had increased even further to 35,311, the peak caseload since October 2008.
  • The average monthly caseload in 2010 was 33,841.[fn]Data for MB comes from Manitoba’s Department of Family Services and Housing, Employment and Income Assistance Programs.[/fn]

Alberta

  • Alberta had an increase of 11,527 cases, or 43.1% of its caseload, during the recession. Between October 2008 and December 2010, the caseload increased 46% to 39,006 cases.
  • As of June 2011, the number of cases had declined slightly to 38,016.
  • The peak caseload of 40,177, reached in April 2010, was the highest caseload in over 13 years.
  • The average monthly caseload in 2010 was 39,564.[fn]Data for AB comes from the Alberta Office of Statistics and Information.[/fn]

British Columbia

  • British Columbia had an increase of 22,008 cases, or 20.3% of its caseload, during the recession. Between October 2008 and December 2010, the caseload increased 23.29% to 133,565.
  • As of May, the number of cases had increased even further to 137,386.
  • The peak caseload of 138,304, reached in March 2011, was the highest since 2002.
  • The number of recipients increased 23.98% between October 2008 and December 2010, peaking at 184,742 in March 2011.
  • The average monthly caseload in 2010 was 132,828, 23.91% higher than the average monthly caseload of 107,194 in 2008.[fn]Data for BC comes from British Columbia Ministry of Housing and Social Development, “BC Employment and Assistance Summary Report, June 2011,” http://www.eia.gov.bc.ca/research/11/07-jun2011.pdf. [/fn]
Chandra Pasma is CPJ's former Public Justice Policy Analyst.

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