Tuesday, 18 May 2021

Ceisteanna (72)

Peadar Tóibín

Ceist:

72. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Social Protection the number of persons in receipt of the pandemic unemployment payment; and the monthly breakdown of spending on the payment since the start of the pandemic. [26146/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (9 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Social)

The Minister mentioned figures indicating improvements in income inequality and poverty in recent years. That is all about to change. Hundreds of thousands of people are being pushed into unemployment. Hundreds of thousands of workers and business people have been pushed into poverty in recent months. Many of the Covid restrictions have wreaked unbelievable damage economically and socially throughout Ireland. What will the cost be to those people and to the State in the coming months?

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. The pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, was introduced on 13 March 2020 in response to the Covid-19 crisis. Since its introduction, in excess of 23 million payments have been made, with 14.7 million payments made in 2020 and 8.4 million payments in the first four months of 2021. Last week, my Department issued payments to more than 376,000 people on the pandemic unemployment payment. This represents a decrease of 8,500 on the previous week.

The first payments on PUP were made in March 2020, with more than 58,700 payments in the first week. The number of payments peaked at in excess of 600,000 in early May 2020. Following the gradual reopening of the economy over last summer, number dropped to a low of over 200,000 by early October 2020.

Level 3 restrictions were imposed in Dublin, Donegal, Monaghan and Cavan from late September 2020 which saw recipient numbers gradually increase. This was followed by a move to level 5 restrictions from late October and recipient numbers increased again to a peak of more than 350,000 by late November. Easing of restrictions in early December saw the number of recipients fall to just over 280,000 by 25 December.

Level 5 restrictions, including restrictions on construction, were again reimposed from late December 2020 with recipients peaking at almost 481,000 in the week ending 5 February 2021. Since then, the numbers of recipients have fallen gradually each week and have reflected the gradual reopening of the economy during April and early May, to stand at just 376,000 by 14 May.

Expenditure on the pandemic unemployment payment since its introduction is more than €7.5 billion, of which €5 billion was in 2020 and €2.5 billion in 2021. The expenditure for each month since the introduction of PUP is as follows:

March 2020

€111.0 million

April 2020

€778.8 million

May 2020

€824.5 million

June 2020

€859.1 million

July 2020

€420.4 million

August 2020

€310.5 million

September 2020

€326.6 million

October 2020

€267.6 million

November 2020

€403.1 million

December 2020

€676.8 million

January 2021

€510.8 million

February 2021

€588.5 million

March 2021

€686.3 million

April 2021

€550.9 million

The damage that was caused to the country over the past year is eye watering. The damage is happening in hundreds of thousands of families. At hundreds of thousands of dinner tables, the stress and the strain of living with Covid is being experienced.

It must also be said that this Government relied on lockdown far more than any other Government in Europe. No other government comes near Ireland as regards the level of lockdown, which was because of Government inaction in a range of other areas in the health service etc.

In my last few seconds on this point, I will focus on those who still will be in receipt of a PUP over the next number of months. The Minister is a Cavan woman and such women are very practical people. On 2 June, hotels will open for indoor dining and for the serving of pints to be drunk, while it will be a further week before pubs and restaurants can open outside. They have not been given any date for indoor dining.

I thought the Minister was a Monaghan person.

Yes, a Cheann Comhairle, I definitely live in Monaghan but I know a fair bit of Cavan as well. I have many family members from County Cavan.

As I believe the Deputy will accept, we have been able to support people with the PUP and the scale of support provided under this payment is unprecedented in the history of the State. I acknowledge the wonderful work of the staff of my Department. While we are here working late this evening, they worked late on many evenings to ensure those payments were made to people and that was on top of the work they were already doing. It is fair to say that a great deal has been done and the PUP remains open until the end of June. For those who find they will not have a job to go back to, which may be a fact of life, there will be activation services. We want and will be able to help people to re-skill or upskill and to find new employment.

Monaghan people are also fairly commonsensical. I will broaden the question slightly while I have the Minister's ear here. In my own county, St. Mary's Special School was given a community employment, CE, scheme for the past number of years that enabled the school to give their students a hot meal every day. Some of those students were coming on buses at 7 a.m. in the morning and probably were not getting home until 5 p.m. in the evening. The fact that they were able to have a hot meal through the CE scheme provided by the Department-----

It takes some imagination to get from the PUP to hot meals.

This is an important question. The Department of Social Protection has just withdrawn that because it is outside the remit of that Department. Can the scheme be extended until the Department of Education takes over the responsibility? Sometimes Departments operate in silos sand they drop the ball for people who really need it. These are people with severe disabilities, many of whom are learning how to feed themselves with knives and forks, to deal with food and to clean up after they have eaten their meals. I ask the Minister, if she could, to inquire whether that scheme might be prolonged.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue because it has been brought to my attention by his colleagues, the Ministers of State, Deputies English and Byrne. I have asked my officials to look at this case and they have been in direct contact with the school today. We are trying to find a solution. I understand the circumstances and we are looking at it.

Questions Nos. 73 to 75, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.