The measures in the last Budget relating to the Farm Assist Scheme, which is effectively and technically farmers’ dole, have resulted in quite a substantial cut to the earning capacity of many smaller farmers, Donegal North East Fine Gael Deputy Joe McHugh told the Dáil.
“I know of one case where the payment has been reduced from €280 per week to €80 per week, which is a completely unsustainable cut, especially in the context of the unviable nature of many smaller holdings,” he said. “The farming industry in general has become a victim of its own success in public discourse. The general assumption is that farming is going well, and indeed it is in some respects. The price of cattle has increased quite substantially in recent years, but the reality for many farmers, as the Minister of State will appreciate, is that costs have risen greatly.”
That part of the story has not been factored into the public discourse in terms of the viability of many small farm holdings, said Deputy McHugh. The cost of fertiliser, meal and fodder has increased dramatically, placing a massive burden on smaller farm holdings and farmers. Farmers are having a very serious conversation among themselves about quitting farming because it is actually costing them money to stay in farming.
“While that is happening, we also have the situation where the Farm Assist Scheme is being cut back, as in the case of the drop from €280 to €80 per week I just mentioned,” he said.
“That particular farmer has two young children and a partner who is not working and is in a very difficult financial situation.”
Replying on behalf of the Minister for Social Protection, Minister of State John Perry said the budgetary changes in 2013, which took effect from April 2013, end the more beneficial treatment of Farm Assist claimants relative to the treatment of other self-employed persons who would be claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance, thereby ensuring greater consistency in the treatment of self-employed persons on both farm assist and jobseeker’s allowance.
“The budget changes increased the amount of means from self-employment which is assessed against the claim from 85% to 100% and discontinued a means-testing disregard for child dependants of claimants,” he said.
The headline rates of Farm Assist are being maintained so farm families with the lowest income will be least affected by these changes,” he added.
McConalogue welcomes decision to reverse teacher cuts
Donegal North East Fianna Fail Deputy Charlie McConalogue welcomed the announcement by the Minister for Education that he will reverse his decision on the employment of resource teachers.
Speaking during a Private Members’ debate he said the Minister had decided to hire immediately the additional 500 teachers who were being held back to cater for additional demand in the autumn.
“The Minister has made the correct decision in this instance. There should be a recognition that the approach being taken by the Minister and the Government was not acceptable.”
Deputy McConologue said it is crucial now for the Government to reverse its decision to oversee a 10% cut in the special needs assistance hours which will be available to high need students who qualify for and depend on the help of special needs assistants to help them during the school day.
“The Government is refusing to acknowledge that any cut is being made to the hours to which individual students will have access,” he said.