Dáil passes law to place PUP on statutory footing

Law criticised for stating people must seek work while waiting for workplace to re-open

Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys insists it was legal for her department to stop the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) to social welfare recipients travelling abroad. Photograph: PA

Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys insists it was legal for her department to stop the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) to social welfare recipients travelling abroad. Photograph: PA

 

Legislation to put the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) on a statutory footing and provide PRSI credits to recipients of the €350 emergency payment was passed by the Dáil last night despite intense Opposition criticism.

The new law also provides that those on the pandemic payment must be actively seeking work but TDs said many of these people were waiting for their workplaces to-reopen and thousands of artists and those in the entertainment sector were being forced not to work because of the public health guidelines on the pandemic.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett claimed the legislation was “an attempt to whip people who lost their jobs through no fault of their own as a result of public health advice into low-paid employment in other jobs”. That is what the Government is doing.

He said the Government “is giving itself the legal right to put pressure on people who work in the arts, in live entertainment and music to go to work in a McDonald’s”.

Opposition TDs also sharply condemned the Government’s stopping of PUP payments to those travelling overseas.

But Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys insisted it was legal for her department to stop the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) to social welfare recipients travelling abroad.

Restrictions

She said in the Dáil that restrictions on payments to social welfare recipients when they travel overseas are part of primary legislation dating back to 2005.

As controversy intensified amid accusations that such cuts were “blatantly discriminatory” Ms Humphreys said “it is set down in legislation that you don’t get payment if outside the country but we have historically applied flexibility to allow two weeks foreign travel”.

“The PUP is only payable to people who are living in the State and it was never paid to people who travel abroad,” she said. “The flexibility which applied to other social welfare payments never applied to PUP.”

Confirming during debate on the Covid-19 (Amendment) Bill that 2,500 PUP payments had been stopped since March - 2,000 at Dublin airport - from people travelling abroad, Ms Humphreys said this has saved the taxpayer €20.5 million that would have been paid to people not entitled to the benefit because they were leaving the country permanently.

“There is legislative provision preventing its continued payment outside the State,” she said adding that because of the global pandemic and to support the continued adoption of the public health advice, “the department has temporarily suspended the flexibility which applies to jobseeker’s allowance and benefit”.

Ms Humphreys pointed out that the pandemic payment was introduced when the country was in lockdown and nobody could travel more than 2 km.

‘Firm legal basis’

She said airport checks by social welfare inspectors “have a firm legal basis” in place since 2012.

No information is shared between airports and the department. Its own inspectors or gardaí seconded to social protection “speak to relevant individuals”.

Ms Humphreys said anyone who felt they were treated wrongly can request a review and there was an appeal system in place.

Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh criticised the requirement for PUP recipients to be actively seeking work. He said “riggers, stagehands, dancers, security, ticket office staff, lighting, sound and many others” in the arts sector had already had the payment cut or reduced.

But he said one such person had told him in a letter that “I am not unemployed. I am forced not to be employed as a direct result of Government guidelines”.

Mr Ó Snodaigh said that if everyone should actively be seeking work the Minster should “tell the employers of all of these people that they need to issue P45s and redundancy payments”.

Labour spokesman Sean Sherlock questioned the legality of airport checks and said many people who travelled overseas had not been made aware that travel was not permitted.

He criticised cuts in the payment to those in the events industry “made up of hundreds of small businesses and sole traders who, although normally profitable, are depending on the Covid payments many having sunk savings and personal assets into their enterprises”.

The Bill now goes to the Seanad.