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Social Welfare Benefits

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 25 November 2021

Thursday, 25 November 2021

Ceisteanna (3)

Claire Kerrane

Ceist:

3. Deputy Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will reintroduce the pandemic unemployment payment for those workers who are affected by recent updates to public health guidelines; the supports that are available to those who now cannot work as a result of these guidelines; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [58205/21]

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Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Social)

Will the Minister consider reintroducing the PUP and making it available to workers who may need it? What discussions has she had on this matter?

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. Almost €9 billion has been spent on the PUP since its introduction, demonstrating the Government's commitment to workers. The number of PUP recipients has fallen dramatically from a peak of more than 605,000 last year to approximately 57,000 this week. This represents a drop of over 90%, highlighting that the majority of people have returned to work.

The introduction of an earlier closing time in the night-time industry and the other measures announced by the Government last week do not represent an economic shutdown to the same extent as those measures previously introduced. The Department has not seen an increase in applications for jobseeker's payments over the past week. In fact, the opposite has happened, with numbers on the live register falling to approximately 165,000 this week. This does not point to significant lay-offs as a result of the midnight closing time.

As the Deputy will be aware, many employers in the sector have adapted their trading hours to meet the new closing time requirement and can avail of the employment wage subsidy scheme to retain workers on their payrolls. It is also the case that, while employment opportunities were limited under the wider restrictions of previous lockdowns, many businesses are actively trying to recruit staff now. The Deputy will be aware of reports of some businesses having to limit their opening hours due to non-availability of staff.

Taking all of these factors into consideration, the Government does not propose to reopen the PUP as a consequence of the measures announced last week. The normal range of income supports available from my Department for people who lose their employment continues to be available and claims can be processed quickly. Support is available under the jobseeker's benefit scheme or the jobseeker's allowance scheme. Payments under these schemes, which range from €203 for a single person to €420.70 for a couple with two children, may be much more beneficial to some households than the PUP.

I assure the Deputy that the situation remains under close review by the Government as we continue to monitor the impacts of the Covid-19 virus.

It "remains under close review", but what level of discussions have been had on the PUP and has consideration been given to the fact that what was announced last week will limit people who are working in the night-time and live entertainment industries? I am thinking of musicians in particular. I spoke to the Music and Entertainment Association of Ireland, MEAI, last week. The Minister has engaged with it herself a number of times. Musicians have seen their December bookings wiped out. The issue is not just the midnight rule announced by the Government.

As people are being told to reduce their movements, bookings for Christmas parties are gone now and people who had booked tickets for gigs are not going now. That is an issue. The situation is very serious, particularly for musicians. We cannot tell musicians, and I know the Minister is not suggesting this, to get a job somewhere else. Musicians are one of several vulnerable groups.

I appreciate the Deputy's comments, especially about the live entertainment sector. It is important to say that we are in a much better position now than previously. Music is now allowed at weddings. Indeed, I was at a wedding last Sunday and was delighted to see three different sets of musicians playing. In total, there were nine people employed at that one wedding for the day. I was heartened to see that, to be honest. Music is still allowed in pubs and concerts can take place. However, it is going to take time to build this sector back up. Some people may be nervous about going out and this could impact on ticket sales, particularly for concerts and similar events. The Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, has worked to bring in a number of sector-specific supports for the entertainment sector and is in constant contact with its representatives. Over €60 million has been provided this year to support the live performance sector. A €25 million live performance support scheme is in place and only yesterday the Minister announced a further €2 million under that scheme to support the live sector.

I will take the Minister at her word that the possible reopening of the PUP will remain under close review. Hopefully not many workers will actually need it because we will not see a total shutdown but the PUP should be there as a support for people. In terms of those who have moved onto jobseeker payments, many will be getting jobseeker's benefit but a number of people will be moving on to jobseeker's allowance which has serious implications, given the household means test. We have spoken a lot about €203 but for those aged 18 to 24, the payment is €112 per week but if they are living at home, which an awful lot of young people, including musicians, are then the payment could be an awful lot less. This is a serious issue and we need to keep a very close eye on it.

Will those who have been transitioned onto jobseeker's payments be referred for job activation schemes? What happens to that cohort of people?

We have the pathways to work strategy to help people to get back to work and to help those who want to upskill or reskill. Supports are there for people and a lot of investment has gone into pathways to work through the further education system and through my Department. We want to work with people and we want to help them because it is not an easy time for them. In terms of the PUP, it was very much needed in March 2020. The Department had to process thousands upon thousands of applications as quickly as possible to get money into people's pockets when they needed it. We are not in that position now or anywhere near it. As I said earlier, the number of applications for jobseeker's payments is actually falling. However, if the situation changes in terms of the public health advice, we will keep everything under review. That is what we have done throughout the pandemic. At the end of the day, we are all here to serve the people and to help them when they need it. That is what the Department of Social Protection wants to do.

Question No. 4 replied to with Written Answers.
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