The Government will be "pulling the rug" out from under people with plans to gradually reduce the rate of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP), Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty has said.
The planned tapering off of the PUP as the country emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic comes as the Government is to announce a major €3.5 billion economic recovery plan.
It is understood the PUP could be closed to new entrants as soon as July.
The reduction in rates is expected to begin at the start of September and will be staggered across three phases over the following months.
Under plans being considered, those on the highest rate, €350 a week, will see their payment cut to €300, while those in receipt of €300 a week will have their payment reduced to €250. The lowest rate, €250 a week, will come into line with the jobseekers’ allowance of €203.
The economic recovery plan is to be signed off by Cabinet at a meeting on Tuesday morning, with the staggered reduction in the PUP the main target of Opposition criticism.
Mr Doherty told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland that there was “a moral obligation” to support those who could not go back to work because of public health guidelines.
The supports would phase out naturally as people started to go back to work, he said,
Not everyone would be able to go back to work in September due to public health restrictions, he said.
Workers in aviation, event management, hospitality and other sectors would still be restricted from returning to work, but the Government was effectively saying ‘we are cutting your supports and forget about we’re all in it together’, he said.
“The Government has pulled the rug from under these people by reducing supports,” Mr Doherty said.
Labour party leader Alan Kelly said he his party has “deep concerns” particularly around Government plans to phase out PUP payments.
“The idea that they are going to start tapering this off in September is completely unacceptable to us. There are so many unknowns in relation to this pandemic. This pandemic continuously surprises us. How the Government can give a guarantee that it will not need to use these payments long term is not something that we feel is sustainable, particularly because there are so many sectors that have not been able to open up.”
Mr Kelly said given there are so many sectors that have yet to reopen, tapering off the payments would be “completely unacceptable” and “completely wrong”.
“They really need to reconsider this and do so immediately. I think there will be a lot of public anger in relation to this.”
People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy said he is “completely opposed to what will amount to a very severe austerity measure on ordinary people.”
“Anyone on the PUP is on it as a result of losing work because of Covid. They remain on it because they are still out of work due to Covid. It can wider negative repercussions on the economic by taking money out of people’s pockets and adding to a downward spiral.”
His colleague Richard Boyd Barrett said it would be “completely unacceptable to punish people who have lost their jobs. Any talk of cutting the PUP… would be utterly unjust.”
He said there was no evidence that people were staying on the PUP when their jobs had been reopened for them.
“Setting arbitrary dates to cut people’s incomes is utterly unjust.”