In 2017, revised estimates for the Department of Social Protection provide for expenditure of almost €83m on the Farm Assist Scheme, the Minister for Social Protection, Leo Varadkar, has said.

Responding to a parliamentary question from Fianna Fail’s Agriculture Spokesperson, Charlie McConalogue, Minister Varadkar said that the total reversal to cuts to the scheme is now underway.

The programme helps more than 8,000 farm families across the country and supplements mostly small farms on poor land, mainly in the west, he said.

“The commitment given in the Programme for a Partnership Government, as part of the Government’s commitment to rural Ireland, was to complete a review of the farm assist scheme, recognising the challenges facing farmers on low incomes.

“The review was completed by my Department in advance of discussions for budget 2017. Budget 2017 fully reverses the previous cuts to the farm assist means test.”

The changes mean that 70% of farm income will now be assessed as means, down from 100%, which is equivalent to a 30% income disregard.

“An additional annual means disregard will be applied at €254 for each of the first two children and €381 for the third and subsequent children.”

Minister Varadkar said that the introduction of additional income disregards for farmers with children further ensures that farm families with children will benefit.

“I also announced the provision of 500 more places on rural social schemes, bringing the total number of places from 2,600 to 3,100.

“At a time of falling farm incomes, it is essential we strengthen the safety net for farmers who are on the margin.”

The Minister also confirmed that all existing Farm Assist recipients currently assessed with means will have their payments adjusted to take account of the changes in Budget 2017.

This is to come into effect from March 8, the implementation date, with the relevant payments changing on March 15 as Farm Assist is paid weekly in arrears, he said.

“Farm assist recipients will also benefit from other measures in the budget, including the €5 per week increase in the weekly rates of payment and the 85% Christmas bonus.

“Farm assist recipients will also be eligible to avail of the 500 additional places on the Rural Social Scheme.”