Thursday, 16 December 2021
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
The public health measures that have been introduced out of concerns about Omicron, social gathering at Christmas and so on have once again impacted on particular groups of workers and sectors in our society in their ability to work at all or their ability to earn a sustainable living. While the Government has been quite laissez-faire, as has rightly just been referred to in many ways, in giving out EWSS support and other Covid support schemes, certain groups who have been hit time and again, longest, hardest and most repeatedly are being frustrated in applying for or simply denied the income supports under the PUP that the Government said it was reintroducing over the past few weeks. People are encountering major difficulties in securing the payment or being flat-out denied it. They are, once again, jobbing musicians, entertainers and performers, taxi drivers and people in the night-time economy. People in those categories are simply being refused the PUP on the spurious basis that there is no record of four weeks' PRSI contributions. These people do their tax returns at the end of the year and could not possibly show that. They would have to go to an accountant to get it. People are being given lower PUP payments than they were given in March 2020. They are being told they must come to appointments but they may not be able to get those appointments before Christmas. They are people working in exactly the same job doing exactly the same kind of work are being given different payments or none, or they are being told they will be paid but not when and how much.
This is completely unfair. This is the Government being Scrooge in respect of the people most affected by the public health measures in the teeth of Christmas. I will give some examples. Daniel is a taxi driver who applied for the PUP. He was told to come in for an interview but he must also get a PSC card and may not get his interview before Christmas. John is a musician. He rang that PUP helpline this morning. The helpline could not clarify if he was being reinstated on the PUP or at what rate it would be paid at. Another taxi driver is self-employed. He applied for the PUP on 7 December and has had no word from the Department of Social Protection. It is less than two weeks to Christmas. Yesterday he spent eight hours on a taxi rank and earned only €16.80. He had to keep their car going to keep warm. Shane is a musician and self-employed. Work had not returned to a level on which he could survive on without support. He had loads of gigs booked for the Christmas period that are all completely gone. He was refused the PUP.
I could go on through the list. This is just not fair. In the teeth of Christmas, I appeal to the Government to instruct the Department of Social Protection to go back to the regime we had in March 2020 whereby people in these sectors who apply for the PUP are given it at the March 2020 rate and are not asked to jump through multiple hoops or denied that support before Christmas.