IFA Rural Development Chairman Flor McCarthy has called for the number of places in the Rural Social Scheme to be expanded from 2,600 to 4,000 in the forthcoming Budget.
At a meeting with the Department of Social Protection, Flor McCarthy said the scheme has been an invaluable support to low income farmers, providing employment in areas where job opportunities are limited and providing services and social support to rural communities.
IFA also pointed out that the RSS must remain a standalone scheme as it differs from other social employment schemes in that the participants are farming, albeit at a low income level. Eligibility is based on qualification for Farm Assist or other social protection schemes where the recipient has a herd number. The scheme is worth €46m/year which has a huge knock-on effect in the rural economy.
Flor McCarthy pointed out to the Department that eligibility is primarily based on Farm Assist and it was important that the means test is done fairly. Recent reviews of Farm Assist have been more onerous and IFA is concerned that Minister Burton is targeting farmers.