The impact of recent changes in the Farm Assist Scheme is being kept under ongoing review, Tánaise Joan Burton told the Dáil.
A total of 9,809 people were in receipt of Farm Assist at the end of December 2014.
The counties with the highest numbers were Donegal (1,458) and Galway (1,000). Dublin (32) and Kildare (37) had the lowest numbers.
Figures for the Munster counties were: Cork (788), Kerry (721), Clare (521), Tipperary (336), Limerick (216) and Waterford (78).
The farm assist scheme provides support for farmers on low incomes and is similar to job seeker’s allowance. Numbers on the scheme have fallen from 10,714 in 2010 to 9,809 last year while expenditure has reduced in the same period from just under €111 million to €93.6 million. Tánaiste Burton said the 2015 revised estimates for her Department of Social Protection provide for expenditure of €88.7 million.
She had been asked by Independent deputy Thomas Pringle the amount it would cost to re-instate the income disregard levels under the scheme to pre-budget 2012 levels. Ms Burton said recent changes have brought farm assist into closer alignment with the job seeker’s allowance scheme’s treatment of self-employed persons.
But the headline weekly rates of Farm Assist have been maintained. This means that farm families with the lowest income have been the least affected by these changes.
The Tánaiste said aligning the income disregards for recipients with pre-Budget 2012 levels would cost about €10m per annum. “Any changes to the scheme would have to be considered in a budgetary context,” she said.
The Tánaiste said expenditure and data in relation to the number of recipients in various categories and rates of payment are analysed on a monthly basis. As part of the normal process, all potential budget measures, including any changes to the Farm Assist Scheme, are assessed in terms of the impact they would have if introduced.
“The scheme is kept under ongoing review, including regular discussions with the IFA, by my officials. There are no plans to change the current scheme criteria,” she said.
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