Changes to Farm Assist are a direct attack on the most vulnerable group of farmers say farming representatives.
IFA Rural Development Chairman Flor McCarthy said the changes in the Budget by the Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton will impact severely on 11,000 low-income families who are very dependent on the payment.
“The Minister has inflicted a deeply unfair cut on low-income farm families, as it does not apply to other families who qualify for Family Income Supplement. The cuts to farm schemes will impact most heavily on the same households in receipt of Farm Assist. For them to be targeted for additional cuts is entirely disproportionate and indefensible. The Minister must restore the eligibility rules for families to qualify for Farm Assist,” he said.
Mr McCarthy said that the decision to abolish the income and child disregards in the means test will lead to farmers losing up to 20% of their payment. In addition low-income farmers in future will find it harder to qualify.
A farmer with two children with a farm income of €15,000 per annum could see their Farm Assist payment drop by €2,555 per annum, or €49 per week.
He pointed out that a married farmer with no children, whose spouse is not working off-farm and with a farm income of €10,000, will see their Farm Assist payment reduce from €7,765 per annum or €149.32 weekly to €6,265 per annum or €120.50 per week.
Local Deputy Denis Naughten has also criticised the cuts noting there are 377 Leitrim farmers in receipt of Farm assist.
He told the Leitrim Observer he has written to the Social Protection Minister pointing out that her plans to change the means assessment rules of the scheme, fail to taken onto account the volatility of farm prices as experienced this year, and more importantly the dependency of agriculture on weather conditions.
“The Central Statistics Office’s advance estimate of 2012 farm income shows farm income will be down 10%. The fall is mainly down to higher spending on feed as a result of bad weather this summer and lower farm grant supports. This, coupled with the further changes announced in the Agriculture budget , will mean local farmers will face a far greater proportion of the €110m in cuts, and this comes on top of the cuts that every family in the country will face as a result of the overall budget,” he noted.
“Next spring more local farmers will realise, that they will have to turn to the safety net of the farm assist scheme run by the Department of Social Protection to make ends meet, but they could soon find out that it is abolished, in all but name.
While Minister Coveney’s cuts to the budget are up-front and transparent, including the closure of the Suckler Cow Welfare Scheme, cuts to the sheep grassland payment & the disadvantaged area scheme, the same cannot be said for Minister Burton.
“It is bizarre to think that the Department of Social Protection allows for a 30% variation in income when it comes to those in the fishing industry to address issues such as weather, yet after one of the worst decades on record when it comes to summer rainfall, the Department is to now make no allowance for such volatility when it comes to farm family incomes” concluded Deputy Naughten.