Tipperary Fine Gael TD Tom Hayes has called for a sense of fairness to be put front and centre in the assessment of student grant applications.
Deputy Hayes was commenting on speculation that the Minister for Education and Skills is considering including assets as â€˜incomeâ€™ in the grant application process, a change that would impact hundreds of Tipperary students in desperate need of financial assistance. The proposed reforms would target small business owners and farmers who are deemed to have substantial capital assets.
â€œThis proposed change would have a disproportionate and unjust impact on counties like Tipperary. Describing someone who is â€˜asset richâ€™ as wealthy is a complete oversimplification of their financial situation. Farmers are custodians of the land, land which is usually passed down through the generations. At the end of the day it isnâ€™t possible for a farmer or small business owner to make any money without having either land or premises to create an income.
â€œI am not against reforming the system altogether, but I am against particular groups in Irish society being targeted. Changes such as this would have a profound impact on some groups in Ireland, particularly those in rural areas. Any changes must be fair and balanced, and must apply to people across the board.
â€œThere is a perception out there that farmers are manipulating the current system and are receiving special treatment when it comes to student grant applications. The evidence suggests otherwise. Despite what has been said in various media outlets in the past few days it is not possible for a farmer to use the purchase of capital assets to reduce their income in the means test.
â€œOn top of this only 4,000 of the 66,000 students currently in receipt of grants actually come from farming families. That is despite the fact that the average farming income in 2010 was only â‚¬17,771.
â€œWhat is really needed is more cooperation between departments, in this case the Department of Education and the Revenue Commission, to determine an applicants true means. At the end of the day if a family is earning a substantial amount of money per year, whether they are a farmer in Tipperary or a consultant in Dublin, they should pay their fair shareâ€ Tom Hayes said.