Written answers

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Department of Social Protection

Rural Social Scheme

Photo of Brendan GriffinBrendan Griffin (Kerry, Fine Gael)
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229. To ask the Minister for Social Protection his views on a matter (details supplied) regarding changes to the rural social scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4802/17]

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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The rural social scheme (RSS) provides opportunities for low income farmers and fishermen who are currently in receipt of specified social welfare payments to work to provide certain services of benefit to rural communities. While communities benefit from the skills and talents of local farmers and fishermen, participants also have the opportunity to improve existing skills, or develop new skills, while performing valuable work in their local communities.

In recognition of the significant work undertaken in rural communities under the RSS, I announced, as part of the social welfare budget package for 2017, an additional 500 places for the scheme. These places are available with effect from 1st February 2017 which brings the total overall number on RSS to 3,100 participants.

Eligibility for participation on the scheme will continue to be limited to those in receipt of certain specified social welfare payments and all participants must also be actively engaged in farming or fishing. In future, all participants commencing on the RSS will have to be over 25 years of age. I believe this is appropriate as it will give younger people an opportunity to explore other training or education options before entering a long-term work programme such as the RSS.

It should be noted that almost 50% of the current participants have been on the RSS for over 10 years. As a result, opportunities for new people to go on the scheme are very limited. It is in this context that I have introduced a maximum six year participation limit on the scheme for participants commencing on or after 1st February 2017. The six years can be continuous provided the participant remains eligible for the underlying payment. The six year limit will ensure that there will be a throughput of places available. In addition income support will still be available to eligible farmers and fishermen who are not on RSS in the form of Farm or Fish Assist.

Existing RSS participants will remain on the scheme as long as they continue to satisfy the eligibility conditions of the scheme. The new conditions outlined above will only apply to RSS participants who commence on the scheme on or after 1st February 2017.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.


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