Independent TD Mattie McGrath has said that the Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton must immediately suspend implementation of changes made to the Farm Assist programme. Deputy McGrath made his comments as concern continues to grow that the new regime has emerged without any meaningful consultation with those most directly impacted by the changes:
“The Minister is telling us that these changes are an attempt to bring farm assist into closer alignment with the jobseeker’s allowance scheme’s treatment of self-employed persons.
What we know however, beyond the rhetoric, is that the most recent attempt by her Department to ‘allign’ other welfare payments such as lone parents, has resulted in significantly reduced weekly incomes.
That process was also carried out without meaningful broad engagement and it ignored the concerns of those the Department did engage with.
I would share the concerns of those who feel that the new assessment procedure is incapable of providing the kind of flexibility which is needed when it comes to means testing farm income fairly.
Indeed It is slightly disingenuous of the Minister to insist that any farmer experiencing lower levels of income can ask for a review of their claim since this does nothing to address the fundamentally flawed initial assessment procedure which is where the real difficulty lies.
There is simply no credible way in which the Minister can expect small low income farmers to swallow the line that this new assessment process is in their best interests.
It is far more likely given past experience that this is simply one more method designed to reduce the flow of support to such families under the cover of a progressive Labour policy,” concluded Deputy McGrath.