Tuesday 27 September 2016

IFA call for overhaul of Farm Assist scheme

Declan O'Brien

Published 24/08/2016 | 02:30

Minister for Social Protection, Leo Varadkar. Pic Tom Burke
Minister for Social Protection, Leo Varadkar. Pic Tom Burke

The number of farmers receiving Farm Assist has fallen by 25pc since 2012, despite the collapse in agricultural incomes over the last two years.

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The IFA has blamed cuts to the scheme and tighter assessment criteria for the fall-off in farmer membership.

IFA president Joe Healy called on the Minister for Social Protection, Leo Varadkar, to reverse cuts in the number of farmers qualifying for Farm Assist in Budget 2017. He said changes to the assessment criteria for the scheme must also be reviewed.

"Farm Assist is a vitally important scheme for low income farm families, particularly in a year like 2016, where low product prices are causing a collapse in incomes and short-term cashflow support is vital on many farms," said Mr Healy.

Farm Assist acts as an income supplement for low income farm families, providing a top-up to bring them in line with social welfare thresholds.

"From Budget 2012, the income and child disregards in the Farm Assist means test were progressively abolished, meaning farm families are now in a worse position than those on similar low incomes, but in non-farming employment," Mr Healy pointed out.

When the scheme was introduced in 1998, it was intended to allow farmers to continue in production, in a way similar to how the Family Income Supplement keeps people in employment.

However, Mr Healy argued this comparison was no longer valid, as due to the removal of income and child disregards, many farm families were now receiving a payment well below the level they would receive on Family Income Supplement.

The IFA submission to the review of Farm Assist calls for:

* the reintroduction of Farm Assist income and child disregards at 2011 levels;

* the Farm Assist means test to take account of volatility of farm incomes;

* an increase in the level at which a spouse's income impacts on the means assessment of the farmer's income to €400/week;

* consideration to be given to the exclusion of 10pc-15pc of direct payments from the means test in recognition of spending required to meet cross-compliance needs;

* a higher standardised rate of depreciation of 10pc to be applied to reflect the need for ongoing reinvestment on the farm;

* the means test in peripheral areas to reflect the severe disadvantage that farmers have in these areas, particularly in cases where farmers may be only marginally over the social welfare threshold.

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