Coronavirus: Minister says crisis could leave over 400,000 people out of work

Regina Doherty: ‘We have not overused the word unprecedented... but it has been that’

The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Regina Doherty, has announced that all social welfare payments are to be paid fortnightly in a bid to reduce numbers attending post offices during the coronavirus outbreak. Video: RTÉ

 

Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty has said she accepts that more than 400,000 people could lose their jobs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Asked about some analysts forecasting that the number of people made unemployed due to outbreak could pass 400,000, Ms Doherty said: “It could be potentially as drastic [as those projections].

“We have not overused the word unprecedented in the past few days but it has been that.”

Ms Doherty said her department and Government colleagues would provide supports to “see us through the next few weeks”.

She said “we are in a very different place” in respect of modelling when compared to last week as it was more that the “obvious industries that are affected”.

“Every day there is another industry that I did not expect to be affected...The numbers could potentially be as high as [the projections].”

Central Statistics Office (CSO) figures show the number of workers classified as unemployed last month was 120,100, a rate of some 4.8 per cent. The total compares to 356,600 in February 2012, when the headline rate was 16 per cent.

There were 2.36 million people recorded as being in work in the final quarter of last year, and a total of 400,000 job loses would see some 17 per cent of the workforce being made unemployed.

Ms Doherty said there had been 58,000 applications to date for the Covid-19 payment introduced at the weekend for those who have been let go because of the crisis. She said her department had processed 43,000 of these so far.

“What happened over months and months in 2008 and 2009 during the banking crisis has happened over the past few days,” said Ms Doherty.

Fortnightly payments

She also confirmed that people would now receive social welfare payments on a fortnightly rather than weekly basis in order to accommodate social distancing for those collecting their benefits in post offices.

Ms Doherty was speaking at a Government press briefing on investment, enterprise and employment, during which Minister for Business Heather Humphreys outlined the grave situation facing Irish companies.

In addition to financial supports including loans of up to €1.5 million, Ms Humphreys said her department was opening a business support centre to offer advice to firm that encounter difficulty.

IDA chief executive Martin Shanahan discussed the impact of the crisis on foreign direct investment and industry in Ireland, and emphasised that keeping supply chains open was important.

Julie Sinnamon, the Enterprise Ireland chief executive, said companies had been taking steps such as splitting manufacturing shifts and temporarily laying off staff to deal wit the crisis.

She said €200 million has been made available for a new scheme being operated by Enterprise Ireland, details of which will be announced in the coming days.