Both the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association and Macra have come out strongly in their opposition this week to any proposals by the State, to incorporate capital assets into third levels grants means tests. ICSA also called on local TDs to address the matter and highlighted the difficulties any such implementations would pose.
“ICSA has been actively lobbying against any such move since the possibility was first mooted,” president, Gabriel Gilmartin added. “While we understand that the Government is assessing all expenditure with a view to making necessary savings, we contend that the inclusion of capital assets in the third level grant means test would have far too great an impact on equity of access to third level education for families relying on income from self-employment, including farmers.”
He went on to say that allegations surrounding the “manipulation of incomes by farmers” to qualify for third level grants were “completely unfounded” and insisted that in 2009, only six percent of farms generated an income greater than €40,000, which he pointed out was “below the eligibility cut off for full grant”.
“The reality of the situation is illustrated by figures from the recent Teagasc National Farm Survey which indicated that a typical 30 to 50 hectare farm generated just €14,735,” the ICSA president added. “With suckler farms, income was €20,363 while it was €19,402 on sheep farms. The really critical issue is that most farms actually generate very low levels of income.”
Meanwhile, Macra na Feirme National President, Alan Jagoe, slammed the proposals to include assets in the assessment of third level grants saying the move was “incredibly short-sighted on behalf of the Minister for Education”. “The fact is that the average full-time farmer will not be in a position to send their child to college without the assistance of an educational grant,” he explained, adding that the proposals were not “in touch with the economic reality for many sole traders and farm families”. “Irish farming operates on a rather unique business model that centres around the family farm and is not readily comparable to other business sectors that commonly use other structures such as companies. Farmers could be viewed as a soft target for introducing means testing of assets. Many farm families while asset rich are income poor and 2009 proved to be a prime example with average incomes well below the average industrial wage.”
In conclusion, he said, “Farm assets are productive assets and are essential to the ongoing survival of the business from generation to generation; therefore they cannot be factored into means testing for higher education grants. These sectors of the economy must be exempted from such proposals”.