In Canada, provinces and territories have primary jurisdiction over the provision of social services. Thus, social assistance programs and supports vary provincially and territorially; Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) are responsible for social assistance provision in indigenous communities (Government of Canada, 2016). This multiplicity of programs also means that social assistance may be known by multiple names in Canada—for example, income support, income assistance, or welfare. Despite this, each jurisdiction does provide resources, financial or in-kind goods, to those whose personal resources have been exhausted and who require assistance to cover the cost of their basic needs (Government of Canada, 2016).
While eligibility requirements also vary between jurisdictions, in general, individuals and families who demonstrate that they are unable to adequately provide for themselves and their dependents will be granted supports (Government of Canada, 2016). Applicants typically demonstrate financial eligibility through a Needs or Means Test, which determines whether a shortfall exists between the applicant’s available resources and the legislated amount of money deemed necessary for a person or family to meet their basic needs, including, but not limited to, food, shelter and clothing (Tweddle, Battle, & Torjman, 2017). Requirements may also include participation in employment programs, being of the age of the majority, and residency in the jurisdiction from which assistance is requested (Tweddle, Battle, & Torjman, 2017).
Unfortunately, it is widely recognized that social assistance programs in Canada do not provide adequate support for individuals and families to meet their basic needs (Falvo, 2017). For example, in 2012, 70% of households relying on social assistance were also food insecure and accounted for at least half of food bank users. Although food banks distribute more than 200 million pounds of food on a yearly basis, the need of those living on social assistance funds clearly outweighs their ability to provide for food needs (Tarasuk, Dachner, & Loopstra, 2014). Indeed, the Caledon Institute’s 2016 report, “Welfare in Canada,” compares LICO cut offs to maximum amounts of social assistance income across jurisdictions and found that social assistance incomes fall well below LICO cut-offs for all household types in all but one case—single-parent families in Newfoundland and Labrador (Tweddle, Battle, & Torjman, 2017).
While it is true that, without social assistance, a lack of employment in Canada would leave many people destitute, it is also true that the current level of social assistance provided in Canadian jurisdictions is not enough to combat food insecurity, poor health outcomes, and the risk of homelessness (Falvo, 2017).