I do not think anybody present could have predicted the unprecedented turmoil we have experienced in the past few short months. We had near full employment and a still-declining live register. We are now in a situation where the funds from the social protection Vote are acting as an income shock absorber to over 1 million people who have lost their jobs. The outbreak of Covid-19 and the essential public health measures to contain the spread of the virus have given rise to the largest monthly increase in the unemployment rate in the history of the State. This once-in-a-century challenge has necessitated responses that are impactful, speedy and innovative and I am pleased to have had the opportunity today to outline the role of the Department is playing in this response to the pandemic.
In March, we brought forward legislation to provide for the enhanced illness benefit for people who are diagnosed with Covid-19 or a probable source of infection from the virus. Employees and the self-employed are eligible for this payment and it was designed as a measure that would compensate people at an enhanced rate in light of the unprecedented health crisis but also, significantly, provide an incentive for people to comply with the self-isolation measures where they were a probable source of infection. The scheme has now been extended until 19 June and it remains important in the suite of measures that were designed to slow the spread of the virus.
Very quickly we saw that this unprecedented health crisis would also lead to an immediate economic crisis and make dependent hundreds of thousands of people on the State to cushion the devastating blow of their widespread job losses temporarily. Across Government, initiatives have been introduced to support people and businesses in the current emergency. As part of that first piece of emergency legislation, and I genuinely thank all Members of this House and Seanad Éireann for the constructive role that was played in the passing of that legislation, the waiting rules were relaxed for jobseeker's benefit and jobseeker's allowance for the duration of this emergency period. Normally a person must wait for six days before making a jobseeker's claim, and this temporary waiving of the rule meant that people would get their income supports immediately.
We introduced the Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, on 16 March and since its introduction my Department has received more than 815,000 applications for the PUP or job seeker's payment. This is the equivalent of a four-year caseload in less than two months. Most of these applications, as Members are aware, were received in the first four weeks.
It would be remiss of me not to put on the record of the House my genuine appreciation and sincere thanks to all the staff in my Department, and all the staff redeployed from other parts of the public service, who have worked night and day to ensure the claims we receive are dealt with, to take the thousands of phone calls we receive daily from people about their entitlements, and to ensure our IT system continues to cope with the unprecedented volume of claims. It is an enormous challenge but it is being done and people are receiving the payments they are due when they are due. This is down to the staff and credit is deserved. I want to acknowledge that.
Our priority in all of this work was to assist the now 585,000 people who are currently in receipt of Covid-19 PUP. We all know these people. They are our neighbours, our friends and our relatives. All of them were working at the beginning of March without any expectation of suddenly losing their income. They were looking forward to the summer and were planning ahead for holidays, parties and festivals. They may have been preparing for celebrations such as Holy Communions, confirmations and graduations until they suddenly suffered a severe economic and personal shock with the loss of their employment. The income supports we introduced and enhanced are intended to alleviate the financial hardship they all faced, and in this way to minimise any financial worries or stress during what is already a time of great concern for all our families' health. It is also hoped that some of this income will be spent in the local economy and keep businesses afloat. This will help Ireland to recuperate from the economic turbulence caused during this period.
I remind the Houses that employees and the self-employed, part-time and full-time workers who lost their employment as a result of Covid-19 are eligible for the €350 payment. It is money directly into their hand. It is raising-up rather than trickle-down economics. This week payments valued at €205 million were paid to recipients of this scheme.
As the economy was put into sleep mode we also introduced an employer-refunded scheme that has now become the temporary wage-subsidy scheme. Experience has shown that in the middle of an economic shock where there are significant temporary lay-offs it is very important that the link between the employer and the employee is maintained to the greatest extent possible. To date, some 54,000 employers have registered for the scheme and some 464,000 employees have received at least one payment. We have made changes to the scheme to assist lower-income workers and will continue to keep the operation under review. To date the State has provided more than €900 million in support for this scheme.
If the Government did not act fast we may have designed things differently. If the need was not so urgent alternative conditionalities might have been chosen. We were, and are, responding to a crisis. What emerged in our supports may not be perfect but much of it is good. The most important thing is that it is working. A crucial factor is that without the relief provided by these payments it is very unlikely we would have had the really high level of public compliance with all of the health restrictions we introduced to tackle this virus.
There are other measures the Department took to assist people who are staying in their homes to help slow the spread of the virus. We extended the fuel allowance season by four weeks. We moved benefits from a weekly to a fortnightly payment cycle. We extended the period for which payments can be held at post offices to up to 90 days. Arrangements were made with An Post to enable nominated agents to collect payments where necessary. We completely simplified the application process for rent supplement. We introduced procedures to help one-parent families where there were difficulties with maintenance payments. We temporarily suspended part of the Redundancy Payments Act to prevent mass redundancies in businesses that we all hope will recover.
Finally, we have temporarily removed the obligation for a person to attend a registration office to register a birth or death.
All of these measures which come within the aegis of my Department were implemented in a short period. The history books will reflect that they have been effective in insulating people from the worst effects of a severe income and employment shock. As the numbers receiving the payments begin to plateau and even decrease, we need to focus on getting people back to work. I am planning for the reopening of our economy, which is why I reconvened the labour market advisory council and why my Department published a working paper on the initial impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on Ireland's labour market. The paper will, I hope, provide a valuable input into the work of the advisory council and of my officials as we act to help people return to employment as quickly as possible.
My Department will continue to work with other Departments to adapt to the ever-changing circumstances arising from this pandemic. It has been hardworking, responsive, innovative, flexible and forward-looking, and I know it will continue to be so.
We can never plan perfectly for the future and this unprecedented health emergency absolutely proves that. However, we can choose to do what is right and effective to meet the challenges before our eyes, and I believe my Department has done that. As a people we have shown again that this country can rise to significant challenges and that we can not only endure but also demonstrate the best qualities we possess, namely, resilience, innovation and a strong sense of community. These values have helped us to phase 1 of the reopening of our society. I hope they will lay the foundations for a really good recovery.