Cuts to the number of farmers qualifying for Farm Assist and changes to the assessment criteria must be reversed in Budget 2017, IFA President Joe Healy has insisted.
In a submission to Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar, IFA pointed out that the number of farmers on Farm Assist has reduced by 25% since cuts initiated in Budget 2012. The submission further outlines that the cost of the scheme has fallen by a quarter in that period, with individual payments to farmers significantly reduced in many cases.
IFA President Joe Healy said, “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.”
Farm Assist acts as an income supplement for low income farm families, providing a top-up to bring incomes 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.
The IFA President pointed out that when Farm Assist 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 However, this comparison is no longer valid, as due to the removal of income and child disregards, many farm families are now receiving a payment well below the level they would receive on Family Income Supplement.
Joe Healy said, “Farm Assist is intended to support farmers to continue to actively farm their land and maintain their business. Payments must be at a level that makes that possible, and account must be taken of the reality of farm income volatility, constraints and commitments; the costs associated with farm investment; and, the limited employment opportunities in rural areas. Supports like Farm Assist are crucial to the survival of family farms, upon which our valuable agri-food sector relies.”
IFA has campaigned for the reintroduction of the Farm Assist income and child disregards since their abolition. IFA made the submission to Minister Leo Varadkar following a recent meeting with the Minister and in response to a commitment given in the Programme for Government to review the Farm Assist scheme.
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 part of direct payments from the means test – farmers secure direct payments by meeting cross-compliance costs and IFA proposes that 10%-15% of the Direct Payment should be attributed to this;
- a higher standardised rate of depreciation of 10% 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.