The Irish Times view on social protection reforms

The Government is moving in the right direction on unemployment payments, but consideration is needed on the details

The Covid-19 pandemic has hastened a debate on building social protections, in particular employee entitlements. As part of this, the Government will this week discuss a proposal to increase entitlements for people who lose their jobs, ensuring that for at least a period the amount they receive is closer to what they had been earning. This would, according to Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys, align the amount people receive more with that they paid in over the years through PRSI.

In principle, this is the right direction of travel. Protections for people who lose their jobs are limited by international standards – and the experience of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment during Covid-19 provided some lessons.

A key part of the Minister’s proposals will relate to the time period for which higher payment levels – which would, it is proposed, be capped at ¤450 a week – would apply. There are indications that the initial proposal would be a period of six months, though a consultation process will take place before the legislation is drawn up.

Recent research by the Economic and Social Research Institute on this issue said that there is a case for linking benefits to former income, but that there were important considerations about the cost of such proposals and their impact on the incentive to work. And setting a relatively high cap could be costly and – not surprisingly – benefit higher earners the most.


At a time when there are a lot of calls on exchequer resources due to the cost-of-living crisis, it is important to find the right balance in the plan. ESRI proposals that there may be an even stronger case for making maternity and illness benefits pay related also need to be considered.

With other benefits also increasing and the State pension age to remain at 66, the costs of the expansion of social entitlements will be considerable.

A detailed assessment of what this means for employee and employer PRSI rates is needed, sooner rather than later.