We all rely on public services, and now Statistics Canada has put a number on exactly how much value we get from public spending on health care, education, and other public services like housing, recreation and culture. The study found that the benefits of public services averaged $12,500 per person in 2018.
It’s the first time Statistics Canada has measured the value of government spending to households, as part of its household income and wealth data. This data, called social transfers in kind (STiK) will form part of Statistics Canada’s overall picture of the economy. These figures will help give us a better understanding of the economic and social importance of public services for all Canadians.
Most of us get far more value from public services than we pay in taxes, and high-quality public services make life more affordable for everyone. Universal public services also help to reduce inequality and make it easier to weather difficult financial times.
Ten years ago, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives conducted similar research on the benefits of public spending, Canada’s Quiet Bargain. The CCPA study used a slightly different methodology and included government transfers to individuals. It found that “for the vast majority of Canada’s population, public services are, to put it bluntly, the best deal they are ever going to get.”
Since Canada’s economic accounts already factor in government transfers, Statistics Canada’s STiK calculations only include public services. But the two studies came to the same conclusion. Adjusting for inflation, the value of public services calculated by the CCPA would be equal to $13,500 per person, plus an additional $7,220 in transfers (such as Employment Insurance, Old Age Security, and the Guaranteed Income Supplement), very close to the findings from Statistics Canada.
Breaking down the numbers from Statistics Canada (see table below) reveals that the value of public health care has grown the most since 2006 and accounted for nearly half of the total value of public services to Canadians in 2018. Education is the next largest component and has grown only slightly. The category of “other” public services changed very little. It includes government spending on services and programs like housing, recreation and culture, social services and environmental protection.
Interestingly, the average value of cash transfers to individuals has grown by nearly $1,500 since 2006, more than the total increase in the value of public services which increased by $1,200. This reflects the fact that recent governments have increased direct transfers such as the Canada Child Benefit, but have not invested in expanding the delivery of public services.