Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar has announced the total reversal of cuts to the Farm Assist programme and an expansion of the Rural Social Scheme in Budget 2017.
The Farm Assist programme is particularly important for counties in the north-west, west and south of Ireland as demonstrated by the attached map.
Speaking during Budget 2017, Minister Varadkar said: “As part of the Government’s commitment to rural Ireland, I am announcing the total reversal of cuts to Farm Assist, a programme which helps more than 8,000 farm families. The introduction of additional income disregards for farmers with children further ensures that farm families with children will benefit.
“I am also announcing 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’s essential that we strengthen the safety net for farmers who are on the margin.
“I recently had the pleasure of visiting a Rural Social Scheme in County Galway and saw with my own eyes the important work that they do, from maintaining graveyards, brightening up towns and villages, to doing odd jobs for the elderly. The Rural Social Scheme is really important for farmers and fishermen living in coastal counties where opportunities for off-farm income are often much less than they would be in other parts of Ireland. It will help to keep people on the land and in rural communities, and at the same time will enhance the quality of life in those communities.
“The reversal in the cutbacks to Farm Assist will be worth as much as €40 per week to farm families. Even though the number of farm families in receipt of the payment is relatively small, I think the existence of Farm Assist gives peace of mind and reassurance to other farmers, that there is a safety net there for them if they encounter difficulties. This is particularly so at a time of falling farm incomes and the fall in the value of sterling.” Minister Varadkar has introduced the following measures in Budget 2017 of benefit to farmers:
• Farm income and other income from off-farm self-employment will be assessed at 70%,
down from 100% for Farm Assist, with additional annual disregard of €254 for each of the
first two children and €381for the third and other children;
• Rural Social Scheme – 500 additional places in 2017, increasing overall number to 3,100;
• €5 increase in weekly rate of Farm Assist and €3.30 increase for adult dependant;
• Invalidity Pension eligibility is being extended to the self-employed, including farmers;
• Entitlement to Dental, Optical and Hearing Aid Benefits is being extended to
the self-employed including farmers;
• Farmers to qualify for extended range of Dental and Optical Benefits from later in 2017.