I have always felt that the self-employed deserve more protection

You can read my article about new benefits for the self-employed, including farmers, in this week’s Farmer’s Journal:

They say that most Dubs are only one or two generations from the farm. For me that’s true. My grandfather had a tillage farm in West Waterford. It’s still in the family. My uncle farms it now. My other uncle has a dairy farm not too far away.

I have always admired all self-employed people, including farmers. You get up early in the morning, work hard and create employment for yourself and others. There is the freedom of being your own boss. While you can do very well financially if you are successful or lucky, there are also lots of downsides. It’s hard to take holidays, and you need to pay someone to replace you while you’re away. Your income can fluctuate widely from one year to the next. And there is always the worry about what will happen to you and your family if you get sick, can’t work anymore, or die.

I have always felt that the self-employed deserved more protection. And now that I am Minister for Social Protection, I am making that happen.

I am in charge of the Social Insurance Fund into which you pay your PRSI. The vast majority of farmers pay PRSI at class S at a rate of 4%. This entitles you to the State pension with no means test when you retire. It’s paid in addition to any other pension you may have, and the widow’s or survivors pension for your spouse should you pass on.

Since last September, you are also entitled to paternity benefit if you have a child. This is paid at a rate of €235 a week for two weeks, and could even be used to hire someone to help with farm work while you focus on the new arrival.

Just last week, farmers and their spouses became entitled to Treatment Benefit for the first time. That’s a free dental check from your dentist, an eye exam from your optician, and with grants towards hearing aids. From October you will be offered free eye glasses if you need them, or a contribution towards the cost of a more expensive pair. Employees have been entitled to these benefits for decades. But this is the first time they will be available from the State for the self-employed.

From October, you will also be entitled to a free or subsidised annual scale and polish of your teeth from participating dentists. And from December, farmers who have made the PRSI contributions and can no longer work due to a long-term illness or injury will be able to apply for the Invalidity Pension without any need to pass a means test. So if your spouse is working or has some savings, that won’t count against you anymore.

Another important measure that came into effect this month was the total reversal of the cuts made to Farm Assist. This move has raised the income of almost 10,000 farm families with others becoming eligible for the payment for the first time. While the vast majority of farmers will never need to fall back on Farm Assist, it’s reassuring to know that the safety net is there if you ever need it. If you have any questions about this payment, you can contact your local Intreo Centre or Social Welfare Branch Office.

I have also increased the number of places available on the Rural Social Scheme by 500. These are currently being allocated across the country. The scheme provides a part time job and off-farm income for farmers who receive Farm Assist. The work often involves maintenance of walkways and minor works on roads, footpaths, walls, or community projects, improving our rural communities.

And last week, I renewed our contract with An Post, providing post offices with essential business and helping to sustain the An Post network.

I know that these measures are only a small step on the way. But I think they are important. When combined, I believe they will help to provide better social protections for our farmers and boost our rural communities.

Date: 30. 3. 2017