Thursday, 7 October 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment
11. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the supports that will be available for workers when the plan to transition PUP recipients to jobseeker’s payments is implemented in order to ensure that they will have supports for as long as they are needed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [48617/21]
All present accept that we are in a different and better place at this point. I add my voice to the voices of those who have commended the people working in social protection and the necessity of making sure those payments were made. However, there are still certain sectors which, although they are reopening, will not do so to the degree necessary. It is about making sure we have all the connectivity and protections that are needed. There are certain skill sets in event management and so on that we would not like to be diverted into other work because that is an issue with which we would need to deal. It is about making sure that the entire system is working holistically in order to deliver.
I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. To date, more than €8.7 billion has been spent supporting workers impacted by the pandemic through the PUP. Since the lifting of restrictions and the success of the vaccine roll-out, the numbers on the payment have fallen dramatically - to 101,470 payments this week from a peak of more than 602,000. It is important, therefore, as the economy reopens and in the interests of equity and sustainability, to restore standard social welfare payments.
In line with the Government’s economic recovery plan, the PUP is gradually being wound down using a tapered approach over a six-month period from last month until February 2022. As PUP customers move to the €203 rate, they will be transitioned to standard jobseeker terms. The process of moving to a standard jobseeker’s term for the first group on the €203 rate of payment was due to begin in early September. I deferred this process until after all sectors start to reopen in line with the recent roadmap, Reframing the Challenge: Continuing Our Recovery and Reconnecting. This means that affected customers will continue to receive their PUP payments until 26 October, when the process of their transition to jobseeker’s payments will begin.
The Department has written to all affected customers to outline the details of the transition and the options that will be available to them. Customers entitled to jobseeker's benefit will be automatically transferred to this payment after 26 October. Where an application for jobseeker's allowance is submitted, the person will remain on PUP until their entitlement to jobseeker's allowance is determined and their application is processed.
Unfortunately, not all people in receipt of PUP will be able to return to their former employment. Even though we know that the economy is recovering and employment is growing strongly, some people will need support to move into new jobs or different sectors of employment. Under the pathways to work strategy, my Department will be working to ensure that people on PUP receive all the support they need.
Obviously, I welcome this move. It is logical that the Minister cannot remove the PUP until, at least, all sectors are open. However, there will not necessarily be a big bang after which every sector will have opened. We need to avoid certain cohorts and people falling into gaps. Similar to Deputy Lahart, I would be interested in getting granular information in respect of those who have moved sectors and so on. That is necessary information from which we should probably learn. All Members know that a cursory audit of the jobs that will be needed in the future would show the gaps that exist. We have to ensure that the training provided looks in that direction. We need to keep this under consistent and constant review to ensure that we can maintain the skill sets that are necessary in those sectors and to allow people to transition, where necessary, into new types of employment.
I will supply the figures in respect of people who have gone into different sectors. Those figures provide us with important information to allow us to plan and help people to go into sectors where there are vacancies. It is also important that we work with the sectors and that each sector is investing in making itself an attractive place in which to work. That comes into the equation, and employers have to consider their situation.
The original plan was to start the transition of people from the PUP to jobseeker's payments at the start of September but, as I stated, I postponed that until after 22 October, when all sectors will have reopened. As the emergency phase of the pandemic recedes, it is important, from a fairness perspective, that we begin the transition of people from the PUP to the normal social welfare payments. The Department has written to all those who are due to transition at the end of October and outlined the options available to them in terms of applying for jobseeker's benefit or jobseeker's allowance, whichever is more favourable. It is important to state that persons moving from the PUP to a jobseeker's payment will have the same criteria and rules applied to them as are applied to those who are already on the live register having lost their jobs pre pandemic or since the PUP closed for applications on 8 July.
The main thing is that protection has been provided and will be maintained for those who deserve it or need it in the relevant sectors. I agree with the Minister that the sectors have to make themselves attractive places to work. Members are aware of the difficulty caused by the fact that families cannot get home care packages because there are not enough home carers. That is a sector we have to facilitate. An element of work is being done by the Government in that regard, but these are the gaps that need to be filled from an employment point of view and a societal point of view.
I will digress slightly, and I apologise for doing so. All Members know the difficulties relating to local employment services. They look after people who are not necessarily low-hanging fruit or ready for the job activation schemes that grab the low-hanging fruit. What information does the Minister have from the Attorney General regarding local employment services? We need to see what leeway there is in respect of the tendering process. It may be necessary to have a conversation with the European Commission on the matter. We have seen that the European Union has been able to bend rules during the pandemic. That might be necessary in the context of delivering a service for people.
The Deputy's colleague, Deputy Kerrane, raised the issue of local employment services earlier, and I responded to her. I will come back to that.
Time spent on PUP will count towards eligibility for various employment supports, which is very important. Activation measures include training, work placement programmes and employment schemes. The time spent on the PUP by recipients allows them to qualify for all of the support schemes that are available. As people move off the PUP, we will give them that option and suggest that they may wish to try a particular road. We are here to help.
As regards local employment services, the Deputy knows the story. We expanded the service and put it out to tender. I hope to announce the results of that tender shortly. The truth is that I have the legal advice. If I could leave this alone, I would quite happily do so but, unfortunately, the legal advice is that the procurement process cannot continue in its current format as it is against the rules. We have to do it. We have had significant engagement with the local employment services and will continue to do so in the context of this process.