Thursday, 7 October 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment
8. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the breakdown of the fall in the number of persons in receipt of the PUP since the peak in May 2020, by county; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [48637/21]
When we cast our minds back, we did not anticipate that we would have Covid vaccines until the end of this year. In fact, 90% of our population is now vaccinated. The Minister mentioned earlier that she expects the numbers in receipt of the PUP to fall below 100,000 for the first time next week. Will she update the House on the breakdown of the fall in the number of persons in receipt of the PUP, by county, since its peak in May last year?
I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. As he is aware, the PUP is an income support provided for employees and self-employed persons who lost employment as a direct consequence of the public health restrictions introduced in March 2020 to address the adverse health outcomes from the Covid-19 pandemic. More than 870,000 workers have received a PUP payment in the intervening period.
The number of people in receipt of the payment peaked in May 2020, when it reached in excess of 605,600. The scheme closed for new applications on 7 July. This week, just over 101,400 individuals remain in receipt of payment under the scheme, representing an 83% reduction compared with the peak. During 2020, the number of people in receipt of PUP dropped from June, once restrictions eased and as people returned to their work, to approximately 206,000 by the end of September. Experience from last year showed that some 400,000 people closed their PUP claims once the economy partially reopened. This is clear evidence that the vast majority of people returned to their employment, once it was available to them.
The number in receipt of the PUP rose again when restrictions were reintroduced at the end of 2020, reaching a new high in early February 2021, when 481,000 were in receipt of payment. The number in payment has decreased every week since 9 February 2021, with approximately 380,000 individuals leaving the scheme. This again demonstrates that people are returning to employment as it becomes available.
The detailed statistics requested by the Deputy, showing the figures at their peak for each county and making a comparison with the number in receipt of payment this week, are set out in a table that forms part of the reply to this question. In May 2020, for example, Dublin had 174,939 people in receipt of PUP; this week, the number is 38,513, which is a 78% reduction.
Table: PUP Numbers by County
|County||May 2020||This week||% decrease|
I thank the Minister for her comprehensive reply. It cannot be said often enough that we owe thanks to the staff and officials of her Department for responding with such flexibility and agility as each crisis phase of the pandemic demanded and ensuring people got money in their pocket quickly, which was very reassuring. The Minister, in her reply, has helped to put a lie to the notion that there were many people scamming the system. There is strong evidence to show that people went back to work as soon as their employment became available again.
She referred earlier to people returning to their home countries and not coming back to Ireland. Are there any statistics showing whether a portion of those people continued to claim the PUP after returning to their home countries and, if so, is there any indication of whether they intend to come back? Gaps have opened up in some places in the employment market and data in that regard would be helpful.
I do not have figures as to how may claimants have returned to their home countries. It is my understanding that a huge number of people have not gone back to their previous sectors; they have gone into other jobs. This is one of the reasons that some sectors are finding it difficult to recruit staff. Employees have moved on and taken jobs in other areas. I can get the Deputy the figures in that regard. My understanding is that some 40% of people who have come back into employment have taken jobs other than their original roles. I will check that figure, however, as I am not certain about it.
I thank the Deputy for his recognition of the work done by the staff of the Department of Social Protection during what was a very difficult time. To give some figures, almost €9 billion has been paid out under the PUP scheme, with more than 27 million payments issued. It was an unprecedented support provided by the Government at a time when it was needed. It was the right thing to do and I take this opportunity to thank the staff again.
I reinforce that message to the staff in the Department and in offices throughout the country. I would be very interested in the data the Minister referred to, including a granular breakdown of the numbers who returned to work but not to their previous occupation. In the case of the hospitality sector, anecdotally, the story around Dublin, including in my constituency of Dublin South-West, is that a good proportion of staff returned to pubs and restaurants but, in addition, a significant number, because of the uncertainty right through the lay-off period and the continued uncertainty arising from ongoing lockdowns, decided they had enough of hospitality. They could not be sure of what the future holds for the sector and they need certainty in regard to their profession, career progression and income. What steps can be taken to offset that? Those people are clearly lost to hospitality and that is manifesting itself in restaurants, where a casual observer might think that empty tables means an establishment is not busy. When we delve into it, however, the reason the tables are not occupied is that the kitchen does not have the capacity to serve customers at those tables. This will be an issue as tourists return to the country. What plans does the Government have in place to deal with that?
Pathways to work includes a number of measures to get people into new jobs. The most important thing they have to do is reskill, which requires training opportunities. That is why my focus, together with that of the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, is on making sure people have the skills and confidence to take on new roles. We will be holding employment and recruitment fairs around the country to match jobseekers with job opportunities that arise. As public health restrictions ease, my Department is starting to ramp up its engagement with jobseekers. We contacted all PUP recipients by telephone and, arising from that process, a number of webinars on employment supports were held. We will see more of that in the coming weeks and months. It was encouraging to see the number on the live register fall to just below 170,000 this week.
Those are all good signs that people want to get back to work. The most important thing is that we give them the tools to do so, whether that is financial support via the back to work allowance or upskilling and training. In May, one in four people on the PUP was under the age of 25. That is now down to one in ten, which means that young people are getting back to work. That is good news.