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Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 25 November 2021

Thursday, 25 November 2021

Questions (6)

Steven Matthews


6. Deputy Steven Matthews asked the Minister for Social Protection the number of persons in County Wicklow who were in receipt of the pandemic unemployment payment but who have since returned to work in some capacity and are no longer in receipt of this payment or the jobseeker's allowance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57935/21]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Social)

This morning, I wish to ask the Minister about the number of persons in County Wicklow who were in receipt of the PUP but who have since returned to work in some capacity and are no longer in receipt of the payment or the jobseeker's allowance. I ask that she please provide me with the figures in that regard.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. As the Deputy will be aware, this country faced an unprecedented shock to the labour market because of the pandemic, with more than 1.7 million claims for support and 871,500 people claiming at least one pandemic unemployment payment since the payment was introduced in March 2020. The equivalent figure for those who claimed at least one PUP payment residing in County Wicklow is 25,730.

Following the easing of public health restrictions in recent months, our economy has witnessed a dramatic recovery, with strong outflows from the PUP as persons returned to work. This week, just over 57,000 persons remain in receipt of the PUP with 1,730 persons on the PUP in County Wicklow.

To respond specifically to the Deputy's question, recent preliminary analysis published by my Department from mid-September 2021, identified that 553,000 persons returned to work since the start of July 2021, after having received their last PUP payment. In County Wicklow, between March 2020 and September 2021, 16,100 persons exited the PUP and returned to work, representing 62.6% of all individuals in that county who claimed the PUP since the introduction of the payment. This proportion of PUP recipients returning to work in County Wicklow is broadly in line with the national average of 63.5%.

Since this analysis was conducted in September, a further 467 PUP recipients in County Wicklow reported returning to work as their reason for exiting the PUP, which is also broadly in line with trends in PUP recipients returning to employment nationwide.

It is important to be aware that a labour market shock such as that caused by Covid-19 can be expected to have disruptive effects not just in terms of the number of people in employment but also in terms of changes in employment. I can provide the Deputy with the details of those former PUP recipients in County Wicklow.

It is positive that the figures are going in the right direction. That is good to see. I always try to take the opportunity to acknowledge the work that goes on in the Department of Social Protection, the Department of Finance and the Revenue Commissioners. The local employment offices were of great assistance to people in the past 18 months. It is positive when people go back to work and full-time employment but, in general, the people we hear from are the ones who are struggling and who do not get full-time employment. I hear especially from people in the music and entertainment industry. I have spoken to the Minister about this before, and to the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin. I know both Ministers are working on solutions in that regard. The difficulty is the uncertainty and the stop-start nature of the work that is causing problems. How does the Department support people who do not fully lose their job but whose rate of employment is uncertain?

We did have a number of measures. Self-employed people on the PUP can earn up to €960 every eight weeks and it will not affect their payment. I acknowledge what the Deputy said regarding those in the music industry. It has been a very difficult time for them but, thankfully, weddings are still taking place. One venue I heard about has a wedding every single day for the month of November and well into December. That is good for musicians because weddings can have two or three different genres of band or musicians at events, which means there is work for them. The Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, has worked very closely with the sector to bring in a number of sector-specific supports for the entertainment sector. She also has the €25 million live performance support scheme.

As the Minister knows, I engage regularly with the music and entertainment industry and I will continue to engage with the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys, and the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, on that.

The Minister mentioned the pathways to work scheme. We must look at how we can encourage or assist people into mature apprenticeships. I refer to people who have been in different jobs. It is a big decision for someone who is slightly older with a family to return to do an apprenticeship, but it is something we urgently need. We must increase the number of craftspeople we have in this country to address the rate of construction we need in electrifying transport and retrofitting housing stock. I would like to work further with the Minister on how to encourage people in that direction. I come from an apprenticeship background myself, so I know what is involved in it and I know that measures are needed to support people to choose the apprenticeship option.

I agree with Deputy Matthews that we need to do that. We have the pathways to work strategy and we are working on it. The Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Harris, is committed to providing 50,000 additional education and training places, supporting the delivery of actions set out in the apprenticeship action plan and supporting 50,000 long-term unemployed into further education and training by 2025.

My Department is expanding the capacity of public employment services. We have established a new work placement and experience programme for those out of work for at least six months, regardless of age. We have a number of other supports. We work with employers and the unemployed and we try to match them. If there is a need for further skills, we will offer people those skills through the further education system to upskill or reskill them.

As the Deputy is aware, there is currently a shortage in the labour market and the intention is to help people find jobs that they want to do and that they enjoy doing.