Tuesday, 24 May 2005
Dáil Eireann Debate
105. Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on the recent protest by the Irish Farmers Association who claim that most farming women have no social welfare or pension entitlement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17182/05]
Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan): I am aware that this has been an issue of concern for the farming sector and have discussed the issue with the farming organisation when I met its representatives before budget 2005. Access to the main weekly social welfare payment can be solved through either building up a social insurance record or through a means test.
I understand that the Irish Farmers Association is referring to access to social insurance coverage. Under social welfare legislation, the social insurance status of spouses and relatives assisting in a family business, including farming, can vary. If spouses and relatives are engaged in a business partnership, they are treated as individual self-employed contributors and are liable to social insurance contributions. These contributions enable them to build up an insurance record in their own right and receive accruing benefits. Where a family business is incorporated as a limited company, spouses and assisting relatives involved in the business can establish a PRSI record either as employees or as self-employed contributors depending on whether a contract of service exists.
However, a person employed directly by his-her spouse cannot establish a PRSI record, as they are “excepted” contributors under social welfare legislation. The exceptions apply to both men and women in family employments and recognise the practical difficulties in establishing the existence of a genuine employment relationship in such circumstances. Where formal employment relationships are intended between spouses or assisting relatives, the legislation provides the scope necessary, as outlined, to allow parties enter into formal arrangements for a contract of employment or self employment whereby PRSI contributions will be payable.
The issue of the insurability of farm spouses for social insurance purposes has been considered on a number of occasions. An interdepartmental group chaired by the Department of Agriculture and Food, which reported in 2002, considered a number of alternative solutions to resolving this issue. It concluded that “the formation of business partnerships offers an immediate route of access to social insurance cover as it is based on existing legislation”.
A social partnership group, which included representatives of the farming organisations, considered how the social insurance system should develop to be more inclusive and re-examined the issue. The report of the group, which will be published shortly, acknowledged the significance of the partnership option and recommended that more information on the tax and social welfare implications of families working in a partnership or as a limited company should be available. The provision of more information on these issues will bring further clarification on the issue. I urge families working together to consider the options available to maximise the level of social protection available to them.
There are no specific data available on the level of coverage for social welfare benefits and pensions among different sectors of workers, including the agricultural sector. However, we know that those engaged in farming are increasingly taking off-farm employment. This enables workers who might otherwise not be insured to build a social insurance record on the basis on their off-farm earnings. A person who has previously been employed would also be able to maintain his or her social insurance coverage in the long-term by contributing to the voluntary PRSI contribution scheme.
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