The current time limit of six years in which a farmer can draw down the Rural Social Scheme payment should be scrapped in Budget 2022, an Oireachtas committee has recommended.

In its pre-budget submission to the Department of Social Protection, the joint committee on social protection, community and rural development and the islands said the scheme is not a job activation programme and ensures necessary work in the community is carried out.

Farmers in the scheme work 19.5 hours per week and the minimum weekly payment is €225.50. Since 2017, the maximum amount of time a person can spend on the scheme is six years.

Now, the committee has recommended that individuals on the Rural Social Scheme do not receive a time limit on the amount of time they can stay on the scheme.

It also recommends that the number of places on the Rural Social Scheme is increased by 1,000.

Currently there are just over 3,000 people taking part in the scheme.

The committee recommends that all participants on the Rural Social Scheme should be automatically entitled to the full personal rate under the scheme, increase for qualified adults (IQA) and child dependent allowance, irrespective of the means assessed under the means test.

“This is the way the scheme operated between 2003 and 2012, when the rules changed, leaving little incentive, particularly for those with a dependent adult or children, to participate on the scheme as they only benefit from 19.5 hours work by little over €1 per hour,” the committee said.

Farm assist

Famers on Farm/Fish Assist should have their savings assessed as per the proposals for Jobseekers Allowance. Those proposals say that the first €50,000 of savings should be disregarded, the next €20,000 assessed at €1/€1,000 per week and the remainder at €2/€1,000 per week.

“Farm income should be assessed at 50% of income with the disregard for environmental scheme payments both Pillar I and Pillar II should be increased to €5,000,” it said.

Living alone, pensions and fuel allowance

It recommended that the Living Alone Increase payment be increased from €19 to €25 in Budget 2022.

Regarding the non-contributory State pension, it said self-employed income, including disregards, should be treated the same way as employed income.

On the fuel allowance, it said that the period for paying the allowance should be increased by four weeks to a total of 32 and that eligibility for the payment should be extended to recipients whose income was less than €120 over the relevant social welfare rates rather than €100.

The committee also called for an increase in basic social welfare rates and that in the longer term these payments should be benchmarked against the minimum essential standard of living.