Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Ceisteanna (64)

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

64. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if the means test applicable to participation on the rural social scheme will be amended (details supplied); her views on whether a reduction in the level of payment for the participant can act as a disincentive in relation to increasing farming output; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8109/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The rural social scheme (RSS) provides opportunities for farmers and fishermen / women who are currently in receipt of specified social welfare payments to work to provide certain services of benefit to rural communities.  Communities benefit from the skills and talents of local farmers and fishermen and participants have the opportunity to improve existing skills, or develop new skills, while performing this valuable work in their local communities. 

As the RSS is a supplementary income support scheme designed specifically for those whose income falls below a certain limit, an individual must continue to satisfy the qualifying criteria for the scheme to be eligible to participate on the RSS. 

The rate paid to a participant on the RSS is equivalent to the participants underlying social welfare payment plus a top-up of €22.50 subject to a minimum payment of €220.50.  RSS participants in receipt of a widow’s pension or disability allowance retain their payment and also receive a top-up payment which will bring the minimum weekly payment equal to €220.50. 

As part of the recent Social Welfare Budget package for 2019, I increased the weekly personal rate for participants by €5.00 with proportionate increases in weekly payments for qualified adult dependants with effect from March 2019. 

If a participant’s circumstances change, a means test is undertaken to determine their new rate of payment.  The means assessment for RSS includes income that the participant and their spouse, civil partner or cohabitant has in addition to any capital or property (except their own home).  Payment of RSS is not taken into account when assessing the weekly means.  If changes were made to the conditions to allow all participants receive the full rate of payment regardless of their means in the manner and for the reasons suggested by the Deputy, it would in effect change the nature of the scheme from that of a supplementary income support to farmers and farm families with low incomes to that of an investment support or grant.  That would be a matter for my colleague the Minister for Agriculture, and would need to be considered in the context of other payments and grants already available to farm enterprises.