New figures show that the number of farmers availing of the Farm Assist Social Welfare payment in North Tipperary has soared in the last year. There have been 190 claims awarded up to May of this year, in comparison to 152 for the whole of last year.
This substantial leap in payments highlight the ongoing financial hardship experienced by farmers throughout the County.
Up until May 5th of this year, there were 190 farm assist claims awarded in the Thurles Social Welfare Local Office, with a further 12 claims still awaiting decision. These figures also cover the Nenagh and Roscrea Branches.
The farm assist scheme was introduced into the Social Welfare Act, in 1999. It fairly addresses the situation of low-income farmers and helps provide them with a safety net. It benefits farm families with children and also provides increased payments to farming couples without children and to single farmers on low income.
While this means-tested payment is broadly similar to the Job Seekers Allowance Scheme, it has a more generous means test, which takes account of the specific nature of farming and unlike Job Seekers Allowance; farmers claiming this payment do not need to be available for work outside of the farm in order to qualify.
North Tipperary Fine Gael TD, Deputy Noel Coonan who recently raised this worrying issue through a parliamentary question he put to the Minister for Agriculture and Food and speaking to www.thurles.info , stated:
“I’m not surprised that so many farmers are calling out for assistance when IFA estimates state, that the national farm income in 2009 was down by approximately 28% on 2008. For many, applying for farm assist is an admission that their farming way of life may no longer be viable and the social welfare payment is needed to keep the family home afloat. This is not through any fault of the farmer but instead the blame lies on the doorstep of this Government which has incessantly imposed draconian cutbacks. The Government is clearly out of touch with farming communities and need to adapt their policies before it drives farming into the ground. I concurred with the IFA’s view that the main factors affecting farm incomes in 2009 have been the fall in product price in almost all of the main farming systems, Government cuts in farm schemes and continuing high input costs. The depreciation of sterling has also had a significant impact on producer prices, as the agri-food sector exports more than 40% of its output to the UK. We are only five months into this year and already almost 200 payments have been given which is an increase of 50 on the number of farm assist payments given in the whole 12 months of last year. In 2008 there were 110 payments and in 2007 there were 105. If this trend continues the numbers of payments awarded for the whole of this year will more than double last year’s figure.”
In order to qualify for Farm Assist, you must be a farmer, farming land in the State, aged between 18 and 66 and satisfy a means test. The means test takes account of virtually every form of income but assesses it in different ways and disregards various amounts. There are different rules applying to income from farming and other forms of self-employment, income from certain schemes, income from employment and income from property and capital.