Attitude to Farm Assist needs to change

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The need for a change of mindset in the upper echelons of the Department of Social Protection in relation to the Farm Assist scheme was this week highlighted by Galway East TD Paul Connaughton.

Deputy Connaughton said that there appears to be little real understanding at the top level in the Department of Social Protection of the rationale for the scheme and in the past decade incremental changes to the scheme have seen its benefit eroded to a stage where many farmers question its value.

‘Every week I meet farmers who are in difficulty with Farm Assist. Sometimes reviews, where little has changed in terms of the farmer’s circumstances, result in huge cuts for farmers and it can take months for reviews to be completed and changes to be rectified.

‘Changes, which may appear small to officials in the Department of Social Protection, have been made along the way, which mean that many real and significant costs borne by farmers are not properly taken into account. Broadband, electricity and telephone are very real costs on any farm nowadays, big or small. Increasingly, farmers have to interact with the Department of Agriculture or other agencies by email or online, yet these very real costs are not properly taken into account in Farm Assist.

‘The problem goes further than mere numbers, there is a real deficit in understanding within the Department of Social Protection of the rationale behind the scheme, the value of the scheme and the fact that a workable Farm Assist scheme is necessary to so many people in rural areas of the country.

‘I have already highlighted many of these issues with Minister Joan Burton, but in coming months will be pressing to have changes made to the scheme so that it properly reflects farming life and farming costs in 21st century Ireland.’