The PUP is available to employees and self-employed persons who lost employment due to the Covid-19 crisis. To date, expenditure on the scheme is approximately €7.5 billion, which demonstrates the Government's absolute commitment to those affected by the crisis. As restrictions are eased further over the coming weeks and months, I expect people will be in a position to close their PUP claims as their employers reopen and they return to work. The experience to date is that people returned to work when restrictions were eased and it was safe to do so. At its peak in February, almost 482,000 people were availing of the PUP. This number dropped to approximately 376,000 by last week, which is a reduction of more than 105,000 already this year over that three-month period.
For persons who are not yet in a position to return to work, the PUP will continue to be paid at its current rates and the scheme will remain open to new entrants until 30 June. The Government will set out plans for the future of the payment beyond June over the coming weeks, taking account of the trajectory of the virus, progress on the vaccine roll-out, which is going well, progress in terms of people returning to work and the continued impact of the pandemic on the economy over the period ahead.
I am acutely aware that there will be recipients who may be unable in the coming months to return to employment in the sectors most badly impacted by the pandemic. For this reason, my Government colleagues and I have clearly stated that payments will not be withdrawn suddenly but will instead be phased out on a gradual basis. I trust this clarifies the position for the Deputy at this time.