Coronavirus: Record 330,550 jump in numbers claiming jobless benefits

Live Register hits all-time high of 513,350 as pandemic delivers shock to labour market

An empty Moore Street market last Sunday. Goodbody Stockbrokers estimates that the Republic’s unemployment rate may have risen to 17 per cent in March, up from 4.8 per cent in February. Photograph: Jason Cairnduff/Reuters

An empty Moore Street market last Sunday. Goodbody Stockbrokers estimates that the Republic’s unemployment rate may have risen to 17 per cent in March, up from 4.8 per cent in February. Photograph: Jason Cairnduff/Reuters

 

The number of benefit claimants on the Live Register has risen by a record 330,550 as a result of measures to control the spread of coronavirus.

The unprecedented monthly increase for March lifted the seasonally adjusted total to an all-time high of 513,350, which equates to more than a fifth of the working population in the Republic.

At the low point of the previous crash in July 2012, there were about 460,000 claimants on the register.

The new total, however, includes those being paid the new pandemic unemployment benefit or those in receipt of the Government’s new Covid-19 wage subsidy.

Many of these are expected to be able to return to work once the economic restrictions are lifted.

The latest figures, collated by the Central Statistics Office (CSO), show 283,037 people were receiving the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment introduced by the Government last month.

This is perhaps the most unique Live Register data ever published by the CSO

In addition, 25,104 people were benefiting from the Temporary Covid-19 Wage Subsidy Scheme.

This was on top of the seasonally adjusted Live Register total of 207,200 – which was up 24,400 on the February 2020 figure.

Part-time work

As people with part-time work can claim benefits, the Live Register is not an accurate gauge of the unemployment rate.

The figures, however, reveal the significant impact of coronavirus on the Irish labour market. Goodbody Stockbrokers estimates that the Republic’s unemployment rate may have risen to 17 per cent in March, up from 4.8 per cent in February.

“This is perhaps the most unique Live Register data ever published by the CSO and reflects both the huge shock to the labour market arising from the public health measures to address the Covid-19 pandemic and the statistical challenge faced by the CSO to accurately measure unemployment in these circumstances,” the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Regina Doherty, said.

“When the last Live Register figures were published, in February, we recorded a further fall in the numbers and we were still talking about being technically at full employment,” she said.

“The Covid emergency has completely up-ended that narrative. The crucial challenge for the Government is that we don’t let what is a temporary health emergency become a permanent economic crisis,” she said.

Wage subsidy

She said the various schemes introduced by the Government, including the Covid unemployment payment and the wage subsidy scheme, are providing immediate relief.

“First and foremost, this is a health emergency and our highest priority has to be the protection of public health and human life, preventing the spread of the virus and working to mitigate its impact on our people,” she said.

These are anxious times for many people who are dealing with the disruption of their working conditions

Andrew Webb, chief economist at Grant Thornton Ireland, said: “While obviously secondary to tragic losses of life, this sudden and exceptional increase in state unemployment support (pandemic supports are reported in addition to the Live Register) shows the extent of the economic emergency rapidly playing out before us.”

Pawel Adrjan, economist with recruitment website Indeed, said: “The Irish job market is being radically transformed by the Covid-19 pandemic as people adapt to new realities in their lives.

“These are anxious times for many people who are dealing with the disruption of their working conditions, and the impact of the crisis on their income, on top of everything else,” he said.