The Government should scrap the universal service charge, with more than four out of five farming households wanting the USC done away with.
The poll shows 81% of all farmers want the USC scrapped, with 61% strongly in favour of it being dropped. Older people and those working in the dairy sector were less likely to want the charge abandoned, but even in those categories, 70% and 77%, respectively, of those questioned wanted the charge to be done away with.
However, when it comes to issues that would influence how they vote in the upcoming election, just 47% listed it as a factor. Instead, farmers list agricultural policies (66% of respondents), hospital waiting lists (54%), and tax cuts (48%) as being more of an influence regarding their likely vote.
ICMSA president John Comer claimed the widespread loathing of the USC among farmers was “predictable and justified” and said: “The USC is a very crude instrument that is widely deemed to be a flat tax under another name.
“It is regressive in that it takes no account of an individual’s changing circumstances — the fall in dairy income this year is a case in point.
“Our incomes have fallen anywhere between 35% and 40% but our USC will be based on last year’s stronger milk price and so therefore our USC payment bears no relationship to the change in our circumstances.
“Farmers are actually discriminated against under our present taxation system and most particularly in the area of personal allowances.”
However, he said the ICMSA has received some “positive signals” from ministers Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin that this might be remedied in the budget, adding: “It’s certainly long past the time when it should have been.”
Elsewhere in the poll, 43% of respondents listed the cost of living as a voting influence, down 10 percentage points from last year, and 41% said health costs were a factor in their choice at the ballot box.
Amidst an economic recovery, it seems farmers are worrying less about unemployment, the cost of living, and emigration. While 40% of those questioned listed unemployment as a voting factor, that is 16 percentage points down compared to the finding in last year’s poll.
Crime is an issue for 31% of farmers, but its importance has also slipped slightly compared with last year, while the number of respondents listing emigration as an issue, at 27%, is seven percentage points down compared to last year’s poll.
By sector, dairy farmers appear a lot less concerned by the cost of living, social issues and mortgage arrears than those involved in tillage. Agricultural policies are highly important across the board and priorities do not differ widely by party supported.
Many have greater concerns in middle age; for example, those in the 45 to 54 age category are more likely to list the USC, hospital waiting list, the cost of healthcare, and mortgage arrears as an issue than those in younger or older age groups.
Worries about unemployment, suicide, alcohol, and cost of living are of more concern to younger farmers polled.
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