Thursday, 3 June 2021
Ceisteanna - Questions - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
5. To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment his plans to provide additional economic supports to businesses as they exit Covid-19 restrictions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30410/21]
The recovery and resilience plan was announced this week. There are particular issues around small businesses and how they are going to be treated. Many people fell through the net with regard to the supports to date. I ask the Tánaiste to make a statement on the matter.
I thank the Deputy for his question. As he will be aware, the Government launched its economic recovery plan last Tuesday. It will restore our public finances to good health through employment and not austerity, by going for growth and not retrenchment, and by aiming for a rapid recovery. It will help to restore existing jobs and create new ones in areas like construction, climate action and digital transformation. We have set the target to have 2.5 million people at work in Ireland by 2024, setting a new record. It is also about building a new economy that is more inclusive and more secure with a move to a living wage, sick pay, occupational pensions for all workers, flexibility in the workplace, remote working and more opportunity for training, education, research and gender equality. We intend to rebuild sustainable enterprises through targeted financial supports and policies to make enterprises more resilient and productive. We want to achieve a balanced and inclusive recovery through strategic investment in infrastructure and reforms that enhance our long-term capacity for growth, through balanced regional development and through improvements in living standards.
The measures outlined in the economic recovery plan include an extension of the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, until the end of the year; an extension of the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, until February of next year; a commitment that the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS, will run indefinitely; considerable enhancement of both EWSS and CRSS in how they are calculated; an extension of the commercial rates waiver into the third quarter of the year; an extension of the tax debt warehousing scheme to the end of the year, with no interest next year; assistance for the worst affected sectors including aviation, tourism and events as they continue to reopen; an extension of the 9% VAT rate for tourism and hospitality sector until September of next year; and dedicated schemes for the live entertainment and events sector which will be announced later in the month. I recently announced an expansion of the small business assistance scheme for Covid-19, which now under phase 2 will include eligibility for businesses operating from non-rateable premises and thereby cover those working from home, and a microenterprise fund for those with a turnover of less than €50,000.
I thank the Tánaiste. There is an array of supports there and they are all very welcome. I also welcome the fact that he has extended supports for people who are working from home, especially in the digital age, and for catering companies that do not have premises where the public are coming in. That is something that was missing.
One of the challenges facing employers right now is the fact that we need to incentivise and encourage them to take on employees. There are business people coming into me in my constituency office in Galway East talking about the fact that it is very hard to get people to work. I have encountered the case of a company that is trying to bring people in from India for specialised work that it wants to get done to keep its production lines going. There is a very significant challenge there. What kind of supports will be made available to help companies in that particular case?
Every business and sector is different. We have a set of schemes which operate horizontally, as my officials like to say, across all sectors. We also have some dedicated schemes to help particular sectors that are being very badly affected. The Deputy will be aware that the other day the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, opened the music and entertainment business assistance scheme, which is a special scheme for musicians and artists and people who work in that sector. Together we have developed an events sector scheme which will be open for applications later this month. As I mentioned, the second round of the small business assistance scheme will now apply to people who do not operate from rateable premises such as businesses that operate from home, for example, which had been left out previously.
Regarding the recruitment of staff, I met all of the employer representative bodies in the last two days. Without exception, they all said they are having difficulty recruiting staff and getting staff back. When one drills down through that, it is for many different reasons. This idea of people refusing to go back to work is overstated. Many people have gone home to central and eastern Europe. Others have got on with their lives and have found jobs in other sectors. We are going to find ourselves in a strange space in a few months' time when we have hundreds of thousands of people on welfare but also hundreds of thousands of vacancies. We need to fix that mismatch.
The Tánaiste is saying that there is such an array of different issues out there that we need to ensure we keep on top of them horizontally, across them all. I am disappointed that there is no mention of mental health in the resilience and recovery plan. If we need to restart, to grow and to develop our economy, we need to promote mental health for our people who will build the country. As the WHO has stated, mental health is central in building a healthy, inclusive and productive economy. I trust that the Government will take this on board because it is one of the legacies we have from the pandemic. I encourage the Government to ensure that mental health is built into all economic recoveries across all Departments and that supports are made available to everybody in employment and to employers to ensure the mental health of our nation is also recovered.
I thank the Deputy for his comments. He is spot on about mental health and I could not agree more. We still do not know what impact Covid-19 and the lockdown have had on people's mental health. It will vary a great deal from those who have been bereaved to people who have been stuck in their homes, younger people and those affected by the increase in domestic violence. I am sure that the Deputy will concede that something not being specifically mentioned in a document does not mean it is not important, or not important to the Government. There is a specific section on mental health in the Covid-19 recovery plan and that was backed up by additional funding for mental health agencies. When the pandemic is over, and it will end, there will still be many wounds to be healed and among those will be some related to people's mental health as well as their physical health.