Covid-19: Minister confirms review of special unemployment payment

Figures show 35,600 people who were receiving the benefit are now returning to work

Construction workers  make their way to a site  in Dublin city centre as they returned to work last week. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP via Getty Images

Construction workers make their way to a site in Dublin city centre as they returned to work last week. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP via Getty Images

 

About 35,600 people who were receiving the Government’s special Covid-19 unemployment payment have started to return to work.

The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection said that of this group, 33,400 people would receive their final weekly unemployment payment of €350 this week.

There can be a time lag between people closing their claim and receiving the final payment. It is understood that the remainder of the group will receive their last pandemic unemployment payment next week.

Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty said on Monday that there would now be a review “of the nature of the pandemic unemployment payment and how it fits into cross-Government plans to keep Ireland healthy and get the country working again.

“Any future decisions will be based on our commitment that everyone who needs help will get the most appropriate assistance and also based on the evidence we receive from the reopening of the economy.”

The Labour Party said the Government needed to set out answers in relation to its plans for the €350 Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment ahead of a vote in the Dáil later this week on new spending estimates for the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection which are aimed at providing the legal authority for the department to continue to pay welfare benefits.

Labour Party social protection spokesman Ged Nash said: “We need to know now if enough money will be provided to the department to keep paying the €350 Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment in the weeks ahead. Both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are prepared to cut the payment for some workers but they haven’t told us the full details of their plan.

“It would be wrong for them to cut the basic income of thousands of workers who are out of work through no fault of their own, when large parts of the economy are still shut down. The language being used is divisive and straight from the ‘welfare cheats’ playbook. It would mean the lowest paid in our economy are punished while higher earners retain their payments.”

Emergency response

Ms Doherty said the pandemic unemployment payment had provided families with immediate assistance at breakneck speed following the overnight loss of hundreds of thousands of incomes.

“It was the very definition of an emergency response and played a pivotal role in ensuring the high level of public compliance with the health restrictions introduced to tackle the virus . . .

“Today, after a few weeks of plateauing, the indications are that the numbers receiving the payment will now fall as the country gradually reopens. While we did not have the luxury of time to design in detail the income supports we could provide to people as health restrictions were introduced, we now do have the space to plan out and tailor our ongoing response to the pandemic.”

The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection said overall there were 579,400 people receiving the special Covid-19 unemployment payment this week – a fall of 5,200 on the number recorded a week ago.

Separately, about 482,800 people working for about 56,300 employers have had at least one payment of wages supported by the Government’s separate temporary Covid-19 wage subsidy scheme .

Both schemes are in addition to the 214,700 people who were on the live register at the end of April.

This means there are currently more than 1.27 million workers relying on State support for all or part of their income.

The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection said last week that 44,000 people had closed their claim for the pandemic unemployment payment, of which about 35,600 reported that they were returning to work.

It said the balance related mainly to people moving on to the Government’s temporary wage subsidy scheme.

It said there was a one-week lag in how people who closed their claim for the unemployment payment were reflected in the official figures.

The department said about 12,700 construction workers had returned to work amid easing of lockdown restrictions, as had about 5,500 in the wholesale and retail trade and the motor repair sector. It said 3,700 personnel had returned to work in manufacturing.