According to the Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton this year the Department will spend approximately €91.6 million on the Farm Assist Scheme and it is expected that an average of 9,900 individuals will be in receipt of this payment each week.

The Farm Assist Scheme was introduced in 1999 to replace ‘Smallholders Unemployment Assistance’ for low income farmers, without the requirement to be available for and genuinely seeking work.

The Minister also noted that recent changes to the scheme have brought it into closer alignment with the jobseeker’s allowance scheme’s treatment of self-employed persons.

She said: “In respect of the farm assist scheme, preliminary estimates indicate that changing the rate assessment of means from self-employment, including farming, from 100% to 85%; and re- introducing deductions from income for children of €127 per year for each of the first two dependent children and €190.50 per year for each subsequent child; would approximately €5 million in a full year.”

Statistics on the numbers of persons whose entitlement to farm assist ceased directly as a result of the changes announced in the 2013 Budget are not available.