PUP payment could be extended beyond April 2021 deadline, Minister signals

Heather Humphreys criticised in Dáil after blanket €350 payment reduced to between €203 and €300 depending on previous income

Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys said the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) scheme is expected to cost more than €5.2 billion by April 2021.

Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys has signalled that the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) could be extended beyond April next year, the current deadline to end the scheme.

Ms Humphreys said the State had already spent just over €3.6 billion on the payment to 800,000 people. The scheme is expected to cost more than €5.2 billion by April 2021, she said.

“It may well be that the payment will be needed beyond next April which is all the more reason why the Government must ensure that it is set at a level which can be sustained for the longer term,” she insisted.

But People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council had said that the Government "has latitude" and could increase the payment.


Mr Boyd Barrett said the payment could be increased on the grounds of macro financial “prudence” and it was “nonsense” that the State could not afford it.

Ms Humphreys defended the cuts in the payment against a barrage of opposition calls for them to be reversed in a Dáil motion. The blanket €350 payment has been reduced to between €203 and €300 depending on a recipient’s previous income.

Rise TD Paul Murphy said that "for a Government Minister €50 is a lunch, it's a bottle of wine. But for families across the country €50 is the groceries for half a week or more, the gas bill for the month or a few weeks of electricity".

He claimed: “We’ve a Government of millionaires protecting the billionaires and hammering ordinary people” when thousands of pub and restaurant workers were out of work as a result of the move to Level 3 restrictions last year.

Mr Murphy said the Government considered the €350 “the minimum people needed to survive” when it was introduced but was now claiming it could not afford the payment but would not consider taxing the “super wealthy”.

The Dublin South-West TD said a 1 per cent Covid-19 tax on the assets of investment funds and holding companies in Ireland would bring in almost €24 billion.

Introducing the motion Solidarity TD Mick Barry said it was "obscene for Government to say to some of the lowest income people in society that 'you are the ones who must tighten your belts, you are the ones who must make sacrifices while we will not even contemplate a tax on wealth'".

He questioned why it was right to pay people €350 in March and April but “it’s not okay to pay them now even though their circumstances have not changed”.

He said that if the virus was strengthening then the supports for people should be strengthening, adding that when Donegal went to Level 3 restrictions an additional almost 2,000 people were applying for the payment.

Mr Barry and a number of opposition TDs challenged the Green Party in particular to support their motion on the basis that the party had fought the election on the basis of social justice and tackling poverty but had signed up to the cut “without a squeak”.

He said 51,000 of those on the payment work in the accommodation and food sector. “Many are arts workers and taxi drivers. A large proportion are young and a large proportion work in precarious jobs.

“We know for sure they haven’t been living the high life and the payment has been used to pay rents and food.”

The Minister said she was aware of the particular challenge for the self employed in returning to work and “unlike other workers, there is no certainty as to what income a taxi driver for example might make when they return to work”.

She said there were special arrangements for the self-employed where “a person does not lose entitlement to PUP if they take up intermittent or occasional work”.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times