Newly appointed Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar, has committed to a review of the Farm Assist scheme.
The Programme for Government contains the commitment to undertake a “Review of the Farm Assist Scheme, recognising the challenges facing farmers on low incomes”.
Varadkar said he has asked my officials to review the farm assist scheme from a policy and an administrative point of view.
However, in response to questioning from Fianna Fail’s Agriculture Spokesperson Charlie McConalogue he said any changes to the scheme will have to be considered in a budgetary context.
McConalogue asked the Minister to reverse the changes made to farm assist and income disregards, given what he said was their serious negative effect on the income levels of already struggling farming families.
The farm assist scheme provides support for farmers on low incomes and is similar to jobseeker’s allowance.
Farm assist recipients retain the advantages of the jobseeker’s allowance scheme such as the retention of secondary benefits and access to activation programmes.
The 2016 Revised Estimates for my Department provide for expenditure of almost €85 million on the farm assist scheme.
According to the Department of Social Protection, changes introduced in Budgets 2012 and 2013 brought farm assist into closer alignment with the jobseeker’s allowance scheme’s treatment of self-employed persons.
Minister Varadkar said farm families with the lowest income were least impacted by these changes as the headline rates of farm assist were maintained.
“Budget 2016 contained an increase in child benefit of €5 per month. All recipients of farm assist with children are now benefitting from this increase.
“Farm assist recipients who were eligible for the fuel allowance also gained from the increase of €2.50 per week, from €20 to €22.50 per week over the fuel season.
“Farm assist recipients would also have benefitted from the 75% Christmas Bonus which was paid in December last year,” he said.