CMHC recently commissioned a study looking at social assistance in seven jurisdictions: Canada and six other countries. The goal of the study was to better understand two things:

  1. The characteristics of income support programs (social assistance) and shelter or housing benefits.
  2. The ways these programs and benefits are delivered in Canada and the other selected countries.

The six other countries looked at were:

  • Australia
  • Finland
  • Ireland
  • the Netherlands
  • the United Kingdom
  • the United States (New York State, specifically)

Questions asked

The questions that the study set out to answer were:

  • What are the basic income support benefits in each jurisdiction?
  • How do they relate to housing benefits?
  • How are income assistance rates set and are they set in a complementary way to housing benefits?
  • Do benefits differ depending on where people live? That is, by market type and by market location and shelter costs?
  • How do social assistance and housing benefits compare to three objective measures: minimum-wage income, low income measure (LIM) and average market rents?


Most of the jurisdictions provide two separate benefits within their social assistance allocation. These two benefits are a housing benefit and a basic benefit for other costs of living. However, the way social assistance and housing benefits are delivered, and the level of support given vary considerably. This is true both across Canada and across countries.

Still, a couple of trends were noted:

  1. The move toward simplifying social assistance benefits to provide a single benefit covering all household needs. Jurisdictions are still in the early stages of implementing this approach.
  2. The use of mechanisms for assistance that are generally available to low-income residents. Examples are guaranteed annual income programs and housing benefits that are independent of social assistance programs.

Date Published: August 31, 2018