I thank Deputy Gannon for raising this issue. Of the approximately 206,000 people in receipt of the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, some 5,900 or 2.8% are members of the arts, entertainment and recreation sector. This represents a 58% reduction from 14,200 claimants in that sector at the peak in May. This reduction in the numbers of people in receipt of the PUP is in line with reductions seen in other sectors and indicates that some people working in the sector have been able to return to work as the public health restrictions were relaxed.
Having said that, I am acutely aware that many of workers in the live events sector are still reliant on the PUP and that two factors in particular distinguish the challenges faced by workers in that sector. First, the performing arts sector is still more heavily restricted than most other sectors. Second, working patterns in the performing arts sector, which tend to be gig based, do not lend themselves to a clear delineation between being employed and unemployed. That is why we frequently hear of workers in the sector being between jobs.
In recognition of these issues I met representatives of the sector and clarified a number of points for them, including that taking up occasional or intermittent work does not affect a worker’s entitlement to receipt of the PUP. This clarification has been welcomed by them. A dedicated contact service has also been established to enable workers from the sectors to clarify their individual entitlements.
The Government has decided that from 17 September onwards, the PUP will be paid at three rates linked to prior earnings. These rate changes are necessary to ensure the scheme is sustainable. Originally, the PUP payment was introduced as a flat rate payment of €350 in the expectation that it would last for 12 weeks. However, the impact of Covid-19 has been deeper and longer than anyone anticipated in early March and in extending the payment for a full year until the end of March 2021 we have done so in a way that is both sustainable and fair. Linking the payment rate to pre-Covid earnings is a fair way of doing that.