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Briefing paper

Lifting singles out of deep poverty: the case for increasing social assistance benefits

Cost and standard of living Low socioeconomic status Welfare recipients Poverty Canada

Most single working-age adults on social assistance are living in deep poverty due to provincial governments’ efforts to curb welfare dependency and maintain work incentives. This research from the Institute for Research on Public Policy calls on the provinces to increase singles benefits to give them the means to improve their future.

In this paper, author Nick Falvo looks at long-term trends in social assistance caseloads and the adequacy of welfare incomes across provinces. He finds that poverty reduction measures implemented in recent decades have succeeded in boosting the incomes of low-income families with children. But little has been done to improve the lives of single adults on social assistance.

Just under half of the nearly 2 million Canadians living in deep poverty are singles. The  average income of a single adult on social assistance is less than $10,000 per year — about 45 per cent below the poverty line in most provinces, and less than half the average full-time minimum wage earnings.

Falvo points out that provinces have long been reluctant to increase the bare-bones benefits provided to singles for fear of encouraging their reliance on social assistance and making paid work less attractive. He analyses the many factors — such as eligibility rules, benefit levels, job and earnings prospects — that affect the number of singles on social assistance over time and finds that the generosity of benefits plays only a modest role.

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IRPP Insight 33