Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

Covid has had a devastating impact on services for people with disabilities and dementia. Many people who were receiving a full week's support prior to the pandemic are now only receiving one or two days of services per week. The sector has warned that this is because it does not have the additional funding to restore services to full capacity with the Covid protocols in place. Last night, the Opposition tabled a cross-party motion to ensure that these services are able to reopen fully and offer the support that is due to our citizens with disabilities, their families, their carers and others who provide the services.

I have been contacted by hundreds of families who have spoken of their frustration and distress as they have seen their loved ones regress and deteriorate without these services. I have no doubt that Deputies across the House have had similar conversations over the past few months. The scale of this crisis was reflected in the debate last evening where Deputies, including Government Deputies, expressed their genuine concerns. Many families have asked me to share their experiences and stories with the Taoiseach, and so I will.

One mother tells it as follows:

Everybody seems to have forgotten the children and adults who have disabilities. They have been left at home with no consistency or backup. As a parent of an adult daughter with disabilities, I have found it really challenging and wanted to run away at times, but could never do it. But having nothing to look forward to is working backwards for us. She has nothing to occupy her or no possibility of seeing her friends or anyone she can identify with. I've found it hard but she can't put her feelings into words to explain how she is. And I'd say every parent or carer feels the same. We're all but forgotten about.

Another says: "We are on the floor. They aren't helping us family carers or our children or adults with disabilities whatsoever."

Another person writes: "Vulnerable people with disabilities and their carers need supports. We are on the ledge at this stage and we feel very neglected by this government."

Another mother says:

My son turns thirty next year. His whole life has been a constant battle with governments and the HSE for basic supports. As parents, we are constantly fighting for supports and funding. It is draining but it looks like I will again have to fight non-stop to get my son the services he needs.

Another writes:

Lost, abandoned, confused and frustrated is what my son and I feel on a daily basis. He is still at home since the 12th of March. I’ve watched him regress. His anxiety and frustration rise to levels I’ve never seen before. His world is standing still and is nothing changing. We need support and life to resume.

Another person told me: "It was extremely difficult emotionally and physically ever before Covid-19 but now we are on our knees altogether."

To sum up, another said: "Those with disabilities and their families are being swept under the carpet. We are the forgotten people of the Pandemic."

That makes for hard reading and for hard listening but that is it; the unvarnished reality of people's lives without these services. They are "on the ledge", "on the floor", and on their knees. It is now time for the Government to step up and do what is right. I listened to the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, and to Deputy Michael Moynihan, as they described how they have to fight for every cent of funding for disability services. It should not be so.

I thank the Deputy.

I appeal to the Taoiseach that we would work together on this issue, all of us - the Government and the Opposition - to ensure that disability services get the adequate funding that they require in the budget next week.

First, I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. I accept that many families and many people with special needs and disabilities have had an extremely stressful and tough time during this pandemic with the withdrawal of services and the curtailment of services because specific Covid-19 health requirements have made the circumstances and conditions very stressful. I acknowledge that it is on top of additional stress that was there already. Throughout my political life I have worked hard on the disability issue, in particular in regard to special needs education. I am determined to make sure that we do everything we possibly can to alleviate the pressures that families and people are currently operating under.

Covid-19 has not made this easy. A three-phase plan has been outlined for the resumption of adult day services. Additional funding has been allocated to that plan to enable services to resume. There will be further difficulties and constraints now because of the fact that we have moved to level 3 and the pandemic case numbers are growing, which will make this particularly challenging.

The budget is next week. Disability and the need for additional funding has been discussed by the Government. I know the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, is particularly conscious of this, as are the Minister of State with responsibility for disability, Deputy Rabbitte, the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly and as is the wider Government on the need to do this.

Day services have reopened at 40% capacity throughout August and early September. That said, that is still far short of what people require and need. We are also very conscious of the need to provide support for specific packages and intensive support packages for young adults with complex or high-support needs to remain at home and in their communities. A total of €2.5 million in additional funding is being provided to enable some 210 intensive support packages to be provided. These will be person-centred and tailored to the needs of individuals and their families.

In addition, there will be constant engagement between the HSE and the service providers to make sure that there is a clear understanding about what is required and the need to provide the funding, while ensuring that the services can be restored in line with the Covid restrictions. Approximately €484 million was allocated to day services in 2020. Additional costs have arisen for service providers in the provision of safe services. That has been acknowledged by the Government and we will respond to that. School-leavers who require a day service have been introduced to a new service during September and ring-fenced resources have been provided to facilitate that as part of the HSE's national service plan.

In terms of children's disability services generally, we will continue to try to reopen them across all areas and to put in place the appropriate arrangements to resume assessment of need and intervention therapy services in line with public health guidance. In addition, short-stay residential and emergency residential respite began to reopen in July and August as the first stage in a three-phase plan. Activity is now increasing for the next two phases, namely, the September to November phase and then the phase from December to February 2021. The budget is important in terms of making sure that we provide additional adequate resources to all involved in disability services. We are working on that between now and the budget and also between now and the end of the year to see what additional resources we can provide to the service providers to enable them to reopen services consistent with public health safety requirements.

There is an absolute desperation in the experiences that I have shared with the House. The forgotten people of this pandemic are "on the ledge", "on the floor", "on our knees". This is how citizens with disabilities, their families, carers and service providers feel. The moneys that have been allocated are just not enough. I raise this, not to have an argument with the Taoiseach but also out of a sense of desperation because of the desperation of citizens with disabilities, the sons and daughters of the people whose experiences I recounted. What are we doing if we cannot cater for that now? There has been a lot of talk about whether we are in this together. This is the litmus test. I think the Taoiseach and I can agree on that. I appeal to the Taoiseach-----

I thank the Deputy. The time is up.

I appeal to the Taoiseach that we do not see again crumbs from the table when budget day comes. The case has been made to the HSE. The business cases, as they are called, have been lodged. A very full explanation of what is needed has been made. I ask the Taoiseach, as Head of Government, on all of our behalf, to make sure that on budget day those very resources are delivered.

I am determined to do what is required to provide for disability services for all ages. There are very substantial challenges. The new Government has been in office for three months. When I was a Minister in previous Governments, I made it my business to go above and beyond and to do something specific and extra for disability services, particularly in the areas of education and health. I am determined that the Government will respond in a comprehensive way to the needs of the disability sector. In addition to that, we need change and reforms within the sector. It seems to me that several service providers are in difficulty and some are moving out of the sector. That needs fundamental change as well. Resourcing will be provided, but we also need to look at the model of provision into the future. In my view, the State must take a stronger role in terms of the provision of such services. That is not casting aspersions on any particular service providers. As society evolves, there is a need to modernise our approach to the provision of services. I acknowledge that will require resources additional to the more than €2 billion that is currently allocated. I am prepared to work with all concerned, including all Members of this House, to identify the issues and deal with them in a comprehensive way.

The Taoiseach is in a unique position today. Last week, I told him the question I would ask him today. I subsequently wrote to him, outlining it in detail. I do not know how often that has been done before. I again outlined the issue to him when we spoke approximately 15 minutes ago. I also raised the matter with the Minister. I am seeking a comparative analysis year-on-year, January to September, in respect of diagnoses of cancer and coronary issues and treatments of both illnesses. I am not raising this issue for any political gain or reason. That is why I flagged the issue beforehand with the Taoiseach. I can see he is taking the figures down now from his telephone. Fair play to him.

No, I am not.

He was taking something down from his phone. I would prefer it if he were listening to me. The real reason I am raising this issue is that I have a deep concern regarding the number of missed diagnoses and delayed treatments. Obviously, there are consequential issues relating to morbidity and mortality.

The Irish Cancer Society estimates that more than 450 cancers and 1,600 pre-cancers went undetected during the pause in screenings from late March to the end of July. On top of that, I have been hearing some very worrying stories. I heard two such stories in the past week alone, involving people who believed they should have had treatments and diagnoses earlier and now have stage 4 cancer. All Members are aware that that is not a very good place to be. I wish them the best. They are young people. I note the comments of a consultant who is deeply concerned about the fact that the numbers simply are not what they were a year ago in the context of his level of diagnosis of patients. That is the reason I am asking the Taoiseach to provide these figures.

I wish to acknowledge that huge strides have been made in respect of cancer care and coronary care as a result of a significant amount of work by many different Governments. However, we must ensure we are not robbing Peter to pay Paul. We must deal with Covid, but we must also ensure we are dealing with the issues of coronary and cancer care, as well as many other illnesses.

We need to see the figures in respect of the diagnosis and treatment of cancer last year as compared with this year. The Taoiseach should make those figures public and bring about a public awareness campaign to encourage people to attend their appointments. He must also ensure that sufficient capacity is put into the system such that patients can be diagnosed and treated to the same standard as pertained last year. We must not allow capacity in these areas to be soaked up because in that scenario non-Covid deaths may outnumber deaths from Covid. I ask the Taoiseach to, please, provide the analysis I am seeking. He is in a better position than I am to provide it so that we can get to the bottom of this issue. I have heard too many worrying stories. What is most important is that a public awareness campaign is begun and for the Taoiseach to ensure that capacity is put in place to deal with these issues.

Let there be no doubt that Covid-19 had a significant impact on non-Covid illness and disease. In my view, it resulted in delayed diagnoses across cancer and coronary care and in other areas. That happened because at the time of the lockdown many elective procedures and diagnostics were cancelled and significant backlogs built up. I accept and agree with the Deputy that some people are now manifesting later stage conditions as a result, it seems to me, of delayed diagnosis. Some people have told me they did not wish to go hospital. One person to whom I spoke decided not to go to hospital but is now okay. The person got a procedure done by a general practitioner that would ordinarily be carried out in a hospital. That is one of the challenges of Covid. The lockdown had an impact on non-Covid care. There was a fear about going to hospital. We are dealing with a new virus and I am not apportioning blame. I have asked the HSE to try to get specifics but that will take a bit of work in terms of comparing a whole year's diagnostic figures. Let us be clear that the figures will have to be compiled hospital by hospital in terms of diagnosis and it is not-----

If the Taoiseach thinks it will not be possible to get the figures, he should make that clear.

We will get the figures, but it will take a reasonable period of time to so do. No one is denying the reality of the impact of Covid on non-Covid care. That is why the winter initiative and what we are trying to do right now aim to manage Covid and resume services, including screening services. As the Deputy is aware, three of the four screening services have resumed screening using a phased approach. It is projected that BreastCheck will resume screening this month. That is on the screening side. There is a fair degree of catch-up there. Many clinical staff continue to work within the programmes and people who were in the system at the time of the pause have continued to be treated as hospital resources allowed. For example, women availing of BreastCheck screening services who had been screened continued to have their assessments completed and their treatment plans mapped out by the services. Surgeries continue to be scheduled and completed. There is ongoing work on the screening side and that has resumed. That is also the case in other areas. Part of the winter initiative is designed to prevent people from going into hospital in the first instance in order to free up capacity for electives. It is interesting when one looks at private sector capacity during the lockdown, one can see that no one went into private hospitals either. That seems to me to be the reason the private hospitals were quite-----

These are complex issues.

People would not go into hospital because there was a fear of so doing at the time. People were genuinely afraid of the virus. What we wish to do now is to procure private hospitals for elective procedures, diagnostics and general services. I take the Deputy's point. Whatever happens now in terms of the pandemic, part of the challenge is to maintain these services.

I think the State should buy private hospitals. I am asking the Taoiseach to provide the analysis I am seeking. I will give him another week to so do. That is two weeks he will have had, as Taoiseach of the country, to get those figures. We need diagnostics in other spheres. We need a public awareness campaign to stop people missing appointments. We need that analysis today. People trying to get to appointments in Dublin today have been held up on the M7 for more than two hours. As the Taoiseach admitted, in fairness to him, and I accepted, many people just did not go to their appointments. Will that pattern continue for another three weeks? What will happen if the level 3 status is extended for another three weeks? What will happen if we go to level 5? We must not rob Peter to pay Paul. We need to have a plan for coronary care, cancer care and other care. That is the reason I am raising this issue. It is not politics. There is no doubt that mortality rates are higher than they were last year, as are morbidity rates. I am urging the Taoiseach to address this issue. I spoke to families this week who are very upset. I do not wish for this situation to continue. We need a plan to ring-fence resources in order to be able to ensure that these services are available and that people are attending them.

We also need a public awareness campaign.

The Taoiseach mentioned screening. It is a passion of mine; I am sure he understands that. First, the cervical cancer screening backlog was meant to be filled by this month. Has that been done? Second, if someone wants to get a BreastCheck appointment and does a Google search the website says the service is closed. Also, the screening should not have been changed from every two years to every three years. There is no clinical reason for that.

There is a plan. The winter initiative is the plan to increase capacity in general hospital beds and to increase ICU capacity but primarily it is more preventative to prevent people going into hospital in the first place. We then have the community diagnostic hubs and stronger primary care resources all of which are provided for in the winter initiative. In addition, there are 4.7 million extra home care packages and hours, all of which are designed to try to keep capacity in our hospitals to allow for elective procedures such as coronary care and cancer surgeries and to ensure that this time around we can try to protect those services as much as we possibly can if Covid-19 intensifies, and the Covid case numbers are growing. We cannot deny that. We cannot go into denial either because Covid will impact on hospital services. Unfortunately, that is a reality that we cannot deny.

We do not have much time-----

I am sorry, the virus is not an exact science.

We know that-----

It has not been since the beginning. The point I would make is that the winter initiative is a large and significant initiative and we have to get that delivered and implemented in terms of acute capacity and additional private bed capacity. I agree with the Deputy that the precise procurement and approach to that is an issue. I refer to intermediate care beds, additional access to diagnostics for GPs, community healthcare networks, community specialist teams for older people, and chronic diseases.

We are way over time. I thank the Taoiseach.

One of the big problems for the hospitals, as the Deputy and I know, has been that too many people who are finished their acute phase of hospital treatment have had to stay in hospital for far too long, with backlogs the whole way down the line. I will ask the agency to give the Deputy any specific information he requires in terms of specifics around particular diseases and conditions.

I ask the Taoiseach on a regular basis to consider engaging with other party leaders, group leaders and wider society, including health experts and people with expertise from other areas, to consider the development of a strategy intended to minimise the rate of the virus in this country. I frequently make the point that responding to every upsurge with a lockdown or further restrictions is not a strategy. We need to identify those actions and the strategy that will give us the best possible opportunity to minimise the rate of the virus. It is important to bear in mind that business, social and health concerns are different sides of the same coin. The worst thing that could happen our social life and our business life is that the virus gets out of control. All of these issues are connected.

During the summer it was clear that there was concern about international travel. The letter from NPHET in the middle of the summer said that 12% of cases were travel related but it went on to raise alarms about the impact of that 12% in terms of passing on the virus to family groups and other clusters. It was very concerned about it at that stage. It is strange that it has not mentioned it since but we should be listening to what it said during the summer. That was in respect of travel. There was a clampdown on travel followed by monitoring. There were strict requirements to isolate and so on. We now know, however, that there is no system in place. In the first week of September, for example, approximately 60,000 people arrived into this country but less than one fifth of those were contacted with a call to check about contact tracing. There was no monitoring of their movements and no monitoring of compliance. Just last week, the Department of Health confirmed that the locator form and the system of engagement with arriving passengers are not conducted for the purposes of monitoring or enforcement of restricted movement. We now have a system where there is no monitoring at all of anybody coming into this country. The vast majority of travellers coming here are coming from non-green list countries. If we look at what is happening in other countries, there is testing in Germany, for example. In other countries there is a combination of testing with monitoring and quarantining but we have no system here now. That is extraordinary, given the levels of the virus. Why was the policy of trying to monitor people here and setting down clear guidelines changed? There is no monitoring at all at this stage. Will the Taoiseach confirm that there are now no safeguards in place in respect of international travel? What was the reason for that change in policy?

I received the Deputy's letter on 5 October, which I thought was a constructive letter, and I noted the points she made in it, particularly in terms of having a multidisciplinary approach to the pandemic, her sense that we cannot just respond to every upsurge with a severe lockdown, that other aspects had to be taken on board and the need to achieve maximum buy-in. There is a strategy. The Government produced a plan, and it was debated in the House, to live with Covid and try to manage, contain and suppress Covid-19, which has been hailed by other countries as a coherent framework in terms of the five levels. People out there know the basics in terms of preventing the spread of this virus - less congregation, fewer social contacts and the need to mask up. Fundamentally, it is a behaviour issue and the implementation of level 3 across the country is now essential. I met with the Chief Medical Officer this morning. We had a very good discussion again and I paid tribute to his commitment to the country and the selfless way he has come back to help the country deal with the pandemic. We both share a clear determination to get the country through Covid-19 with the help of everybody in this House and across society also.

The time is up.

I am trying to organise a meeting with the party leaders. It looks like it might be Monday at this stage and I will work with leaders in that regard. It is to have a fuller briefing in respect of all aspects of it.

On the travel issue, we are now working on and looking at the European framework that has been published-----

The time is up, please.

-----and we are engaging with the European authorities. The health authorities have been consistently negative about checks and testing at airports. The public health authorities have a different view-----

Can we go back to Deputy Shortall, please?

-----to what the lay view might be in respect of that. I just had to put that on the record. We are dealing with that.

I support the framework but it is a framework; it is not a strategy. That is the point. What we need is a strategy which will hunt down the virus. To repeat those words that came in at the very beginning of all of this, we need to be hunting down the virus. A high area of risk is in terms of travel without any safeguards. People come into this country from many red list countries and there are no safeguards whatsoever in place. I asked the Taoiseach what happened to change that policy. Why was that policy changed? Surely it exposes the country to the importation of the virus. The Taoiseach talked about looking at the European traffic light system. If we were to introduce that now, Ireland would be in the red zone and we would be completely unprepared in terms of European requirements or standards for testing at our airports or for any kind of quarantining. Currently, there is no system in place. There are no plans under way to address that. That is why I am saying we need a strategy to minimise the virus. Unless the Taoiseach puts in place some kind of safeguards at ports and airports, he is wasting his time.

The public health authorities have been very reluctant to embrace antigen testing or rapid testing. They have had a view, and the engagement is continuing, that testing at airports would not be the wisest use of resources in terms of isolating and contact tracing.

They have fears about it and believe it could lead to multiple false trails involving huge numbers.

(Interruptions).

I am just explaining it to the Deputy. I am just sharing with her concerns that-----

The Taoiseach is raising concerns but that is not addressing it.

-----public health officials have in regard to this. We have got to deal with it.

The Minister for Health asked HIQA to assess the new testing technologies from a technological perspective. That assessment has been completed and it will be presented to him shortly. Obviously, the Minister for Transport is examining this. There has been a series of multidepartmental meetings on the question of what additional measures we will require if we opt into the European framework.

The oversight committee, chaired by the Secretary General of my Department, met this morning with a view to having stronger enforcement of level 3 restrictions. We are particularly concerned about Northern Ireland. People talk about red zones and so on but Northern Ireland now faces a significant challenge owing to its very high numbers. Clearly, an overspill into the Republic could have consequences so we have to deal with that also. Therefore, the oversight group met this morning. We are considering fines, for example, in terms of traffic and so on.

It is all very late in the day.

It is not, actually.

Please, we cannot have a conversation across the Chamber about this.

Regarding the central point on travel, the Deputy can be briefed by public health officials. They have had concerns consistently about alternatives to the PCR testing regime.

Let us look at this exact same issue from another angle. Listen to these words: "We are having big outbreaks that we simply cannot get a handle on because we don't have the resources." Those are the words of a public health employee that were reported in the Irish Examiner last night. One of her colleagues reported that 150 new cases came in over the weekend but that none of her staff could go near any of them because they are run off their feet and did not have time to do so. Dr. Ann Dee, a consultant in public health medicine, told the Irish Examiner: "Unless the country wants to live in lockdown permanently every few weeks for the rest of the winter then the government needs to give us staff to be able to handle what is happening." She added: "The regional public health system is as close to collapse as it has been than at any time before." The Government line is that there is a multimillion euro recruitment package that will benefit the regional public health departments soon enough. Dr. Dee's reply to that is that she does not expect to see any new boots on the ground until early in the new year, which is at least three months away. What will happen in the meantime?

I am a supporter of masking up. I am opposed to the Tánaiste's suggestion that people should be fined €50 for not wearing a mask. I am in favour of voluntary compliance with restrictions and I am confident the Irish people will accept increased restrictions if they are demonstrably necessary to defend public health and if the proper supports are put in place. What sticks in the throats of people, however, are the facts that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have failed to build a strong public health service capable of withstanding a powerful wave of the virus and that lockdown may be necessary to compensate for those failures.

Dr. Chris Luke, based in Cork city, told The Echo that there were no critical care beds available in Cork city hospitals on Monday night and that there were just five general beds available. Is that a surprise when the State has 6.5 ICU beds per 100,000 of the population? In Germany, by contrast, the figure is 38.7, which is six times higher. In 2018, this country had 2.3 general hospital beds per 1,000 of the population. Thirty years earlier, in 1988, the figure was nine, which was nearly four times higher.

When Dr. Mary Favier told "Morning Ireland" that she supports level 5, because she fears there will not be a bed available for someone who has had a bad traffic accident or needs emergency cardiac surgery in November, she made a point that was less about the power of the virus and more about the failures of successive Governments. I have two questions. First, can the Taoiseach fast-track the recruitment of the new public health staff that Dr. Ann Dee expects to see on the ground in the new year, and can the bulk of those staff be put into position within the next month? Second, restrictions are on the increase. There needs to be an increase in the supports. What is the Taoiseach's view on restoring the pandemic unemployment payment to €350, reintroducing the blanket ban on evictions and seriously extending the mortgage moratorium?

There will be no resources spared in the public health response. The Minister for Health has already announced a doubling of public health doctors. I spoke with the Chief Medical Officer this morning on this issue, among others. Again, we are in agreement that anything we can do to fast-track the recruitment and appointment of other staff will happen.

As the Deputy knows, with regard to the testing regime, the first 500 community swabbers are through the interview process and are going into compliance checking. The first new staff start on 8 October. With regard to contact tracing, the first 400 people are through the interview process. There were 65 new staff this week, on 6 October, and there are to be 70 next week, on 12 October. We expect to continue to bring in 60 to 70 new staff every week, which will help to free up resources in the wider health service and also get a specific, stronger workforce in place on the contact tracing and swabbing side. The public health service faces a challenge owing to Covid-19. Of that there is no doubt, but the resources have been provided and will not be spared in ensuring that what must be done will be done. I have made that very clear, and so has the Minister for Health.

This year, because of Covid-19, the Government will have allocated substantial funding to intervene to support people regarding their incomes and to support employers to try to keep businesses viable. That will continue. We have to have a sustainable model for the pandemic unemployment payment. The whole idea was to make sure we could sustain this until April 2021 and beyond considering the financial and economic implications.

Moving to level 3 is already having a significant impact on the number of new claims. As of the close of business last night, we have received 17,000 new claims for the pandemic unemployment payment. Normally, there would be between 1,000 and 2,000 claims per day. Given the move to level 3, additional claims are expected. A rough estimate based on experience in Dublin and Donegal indicates that between 40,000 and 50,000 extra claims could be made this week as a result of moving to level 3. That is how serious moving to level 3 or any higher level is. It has clear financial and economic implications. The Government has taken that on board and will have a very high deficit this year, of over €20 billion. Obviously, we will be recalibrating figures as a result of moving to level 3. The economic consequences are significant, including for individuals who lose their jobs and so on. We want to try to be fair to all concerned and give people a support, by way of the pandemic unemployment payment, that is close to what they were earning prior to losing their job in the first instance.

I note with great interest the information the Taoiseach has provided to the Dáil. He is expecting 40,000 to 50,000 new claims for the pandemic unemployment payment this week alone. In the previous debate, a point was made by a Deputy that it seems that, according to a fairly extensive online survey, the average pay of someone before having to go on the pandemic unemployment payment was over €500. In other words, people had suffered a cut of nearly €200 in their household income before the Government decided to cut the payment by €100, or €50, in September. Can the Taoiseach explain how €350 was regarded as a reasonable payment in March but not in October, when the virus is spreading and there is a large amount of untapped wealth in the hands of wealthy individuals? At the same time, the Government refuses even to countenance a serious wealth tax.

On that issue, when the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, was originally introduced it was for a period of 12 weeks. We have kept it open for new entrants. We have also extended to April next and we will probably have to extend it beyond that for as long as the pandemic continues, to make it more sustainable in terms of the overall needs of the country. The Deputy mentioned averages. The reality is that 48,000 people whose prior income was less than €200 per week will receive €203 per week under the PUP. A further 36,000 people who earned between €200 and €300 per week will now receive €250 per week. On average, most people in receipt of the €250 per week will be getting a bit more than they would have received in employment prior to the pandemic. I acknowledge that the remaining people, whose prior income was over €300, will be getting less. We are trying to be fair to all concerned because we are also conscious that there are over 200,000 people on jobseeker's allowance. Someone who lost a job before the pandemic is, and has been for the duration of the pandemic, on jobseeker's allowance. I did pose the question yesterday as to whether people were of a view that the new social welfare payment should be €350 for all categories. That is not a tenable proposition in terms of the finances of the State. We could not sustain that for any great length of time. These are the realities that Government has to try to manage and deal with in the best interests of all concerned. We are very concerned about the poverty issue and the budget next week will have a specific focus on that in terms of dealing with those who would be most vulnerable during this pandemic.