Alberta households on assistance have doubled since 2007 and are now gaining on Ontario
By Margarita Wilkins
There are many different indicators to measure the health of an economy. One is the number of families relying on social assistance, a program funded by provincial governments for people who are not prevented from working by disability but who do not have the resources to meet basic needs. People dealing with long-term disabilities receive support through other programs.
The graph shows the percentage of all households in Alberta and Ontario receiving benefits through Alberta Works and Ontario Works, respectively. The percentage of households relying on Alberta Works benefits has risen twice, first following the 2008 financial crisis, when use peaked at three per cent of families in March 2010, and then again after the fall in energy prices in 2015. In July 2019, 3.7 per cent of Alberta households were reliant on social assistance. In Ontario, the equivalent figure peaked in July 2011 at 5.5 per cent after which it gradually and steadily declined, reaching 4.4 per cent in July 2019.
Historically well below the value in Ontario, the percentage of Alberta households relying on social assistance has nearly doubled since 2007 and is now very close to the rate in Ontario. The largest part of the increase in the reliance on Alberta Works benefits is due to the recession in the energy sector, which was sparked by the fall in energy prices in 2015 and which has been prolonged by the uncertainty surrounding pipeline construction and approvals for other energy projects.
By some measures the recession in Alberta following the 2015 fall in energy prices has ended but for those households forced onto social assistance it shows little sign of abating.
Margarita Wilkins is a research associate at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy. This is adapted from the latest issue of the School’s Social Policy Trends.