The purpose of the rural social scheme (RSS) is to provide income support for farmers and fisherpersons who have an entitlement to specified social welfare payments. Persons are engaged for 19 and a half hours per week to provide certain services of benefit to rural communities. The scheme currently provides work opportunities for around 2,600 participants and 130 supervisory staff. The funds allocated for 2013 amount to €45 million, which should enable the scheme to continue as in previous years but does not allow for the recruitment of additional participants above the numbers stated above. The Department of Social Protection has recently published a review of employment support schemes which, together with the outcome of the focused policy assessment of the RSS which the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has indicated it intends to publish this year, will inform future policy developments of the scheme. I have no plans to increase the number of places available on this scheme.
The farm assist scheme, based on jobseeker's allowance, is the primary scheme for supporting low income farmers, without the requirement to be available for and genuinely seeking work. Farm assist recipients retain all the advantages of the jobseeker's allowance scheme such as retention of secondary benefits and access to activation programmes. Farm assist is a flexible payment and any farmer experiencing lower levels of income or cash-flow issues, due for example to bad weather, can ask the local social welfare office to review the level of means applying to his or her claim. It may also be noted that the assessment of means for the purpose of qualifying for farm assist is designed to reflect the actual net income. It looks at gross income, less any expenses necessarily incurred, from farming. Income and expenditure figures for the preceding year are generally used as an indicator of the expected position in the following year. However, account is taken of any exceptional circumstances so as to ensure that the assessment accurately reflects the current situation.
The Deputy will be aware of the measures to support farmers introduced by my colleague the Minister for Agriculture and Food to provide a €1 million fund to contribute to the transport costs of importing fodder to the country, and the availability of emergency assistance under the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Council's early warning system to ensure that there is no reason for any farmer to see animals suffer, and to ensure that processing of outstanding scheme payments as promptly as possible to provide cash-flow for farmers.