Tens of thousands of people have gone back to work this month and many more will go back in the weeks ahead as restrictions are lifted. This is very good news because people need and want to be back at work. Their enthusiasm to return was demonstrated last year when 400,000 went back to work as restrictions were lifted. Workers do not want to be on the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP. They, and indeed all of us, hope such supports will be required and necessary only for the shortest possible time. The reality is that, come September, some people will still be locked out of work due to public health restrictions. Among them will be those in aviation, hospitality and events, those whose jobs depend on international travel and those in many other sectors. That is why the Taoiseach's decision to start cutting the PUP by instalments of €50 from September is premature and deeply unfair.
It has always been understood that when the Government stops people from going back to their place of employment, for good public health reasons, it has a responsibility to support them. It seems now, however, that the Government has chosen to pull the rug from under the workers. I heard a woman on the radio last week who said she remained locked out of work despite the reopening. She described her experience and said that for the first six months of lockdown, her family availed of the mortgage break and that when that went, the family tapped into their savings. Now that money is gone too. How on earth is it fair to say to this woman or thousands of workers like her who will not be back at work in September and may not be allowed back until next year that their supports are going to be cut? The Taoiseach is walking away from his responsibility to these workers and their families. He will cut their income, in effect, by one third. That is absolutely huge. It is the difference between them just getting by for the next few months and not doing so.
For the vast majority, the need for the PUP will fall away naturally as sectors reopen. That is what the evidence tells us but the Taoiseach's decision to cut the PUP ensures those who remain locked out of work will be made poorer. They still have to pay their mortgages, rent, childcare fees and utility bills but they will be abandoned by the Government when they are at the end of their tether. What happened to "We are all in this together", as was the slogan of the Government? The Taoiseach promised no cliff edge but cliff edges mean nothing to those who are relying on every single euro. To slash payments by €50 a go is devastating when workers are prevented from working.
What the Taoiseach now proposes is a mirror of the plan he wanted to introduce in January but it was the wrong approach then and it is the wrong approach now. His approach to this matter sends out a signal that the recovery he envisages is one that is unfair and leaves people behind. Let us not go down that road again. I ask the Taoiseach not to press ahead with these cuts and to ensure that full support will remain in place for those workers who are prevented from going to work for as long as they are prevented from doing so.