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It would be unfair to restore PUP for one cohort of workers and not others, says minister

Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys said the money will have to be paid back.

There have been calls to restore the Pandemic Unemployment Payment.
There have been calls to restore the Pandemic Unemployment Payment.

IT WOULD NOT be fair to increase or restore the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) for one cohort of workers and not others who have also lost their jobs, according to Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys. 

Her comments come after the Taoiseach defended cuts to the Covid-19 unemployment payments, insisting the Government may need to fund pandemic financial support measures through the whole of 2021.

Micheal Martin was responding to calls in the Dáil to reverse the reduction in the PUP.

The €350 a week payments have dropped to between €200 to €300. More than 150,000 people are still in receipt of the benefit.

Over the weekend, Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien hinted that the full amount of €350-a-week might be restored in badly-hit sectors.

In an interview with TheJournal.ie yesterday, the Taoiseach confirmed that the PUP system is being reviewed by Government and that any changes will target the sectors of the economy worst hit by the pandemic.

He indicated that tweaks to the social welfare system could allow those on the PUP to do some work without losing out on their payment.  

Humphreys told the Dáil this evening that the Government is trying to be as fair as possible, stating that they needed to ensure that the scheme is sustainable into next year.

She said the impact of the pandemic is deeper and longer than anyone expected, stating that the PUP was initially an emergency measure that had to be extended.

The minister said the payment may be needed “for much longer than we expected”.

She also confirmed that the scheme would be reviewed as part of the Budget, but added: 

“There is no such thing as free money, and we do have to pay it back.

“While we can borrow money now ultimately these borrowings will have to be repaid by young people and future generations of workers.”

Labour’s Sean Sherlock said those in the arts and entertainment business are being impacted the most, and called for the restoration of the payment for those sectors. 

He said he feared people might be forced to emigrate due to their line of business not being allowed to reopen in Ireland. 

The minister said it would not be fair to re-instate the payment for one group of workers. 

During leaders’ questions, Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald urged Martin to reinstate the original payments.

She contrasted it with a Government move to appoint 10 special advisers to junior ministers.

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McDonald said it was extraordinary that last week’s move to cut the PUP came just 24 hours before tighter coronavirus restrictions were announced for Dublin.

Martin said the PUP was originally planned as a 12-week intervention. He said while the rates had now be reduced, the scheme had been extended until next April.

The Taoiseach also raised the prospect of the Government requiring to fund similar measures through to the end of next year.

“We’re now looking at a much longer horizon for the Pandemic Unemployment Payments,” he said.

“And one of the decisions we took in July was to extend it out to April of next year.

“This government has already put €3.5 billion into the Pandemic Unemployment Payment – that’s what it has cost. This year alone government will spend €28 billion  on social protection – that is an unprecedented intervention by the state and by government in supporting incomes and, yes, rates have come down in line with the decision in July, but are still very closely approximated to what people would have been earning prior to coming onto the Covid payment.

“We also now have to look beyond April and we have to realise that the impact of Covid, particularly economically and financially, could be right through the entirety of 2021, and therefore the planning, the fiscal planning, the planning around social protection budgets, has to take that into consideration and will.”

With reporting by Press Association 

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