Seanad debates

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Social Welfare (Covid-19) (Amendment) Bill 2020: Second Stage


1:00 pm

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent) | Oireachtas source

I am sharing time with Senator Ruane.

I welcome the Minister. When the pandemic unemployment payment was introduced, it was, as the Minister said, a solidarity payment to protect people's incomes. It was a very positive measure by the outgoing Minister who is now the Leader of the House, Senator Doherty, and was praised internationally. It was recognised as the State seeing how important it was to keep an economy functioning normally. It was a gesture of social solidarity, but not necessarily simply with those accessing the payment. It was also a recognition of the solidarity shown by all the sectors that ceased their trading and the self-employed who stopped working, all of whom contributed to the need to stop activity in many sectors of society in order to contain the virus. There was social solidarity all around in that regard and the payment was related to that.

Unfortunately, over the last week or two there has been a litany of inaccuracies, contradictions and misinformation that have caused great distress to people and their families. We should remember that a person on one of these payments is not simply a person but a person in a family, and whatever affects the person affects the person's family - the person's children, partner and so forth. There are still a couple of inaccuracies even in the Minister's speech today. She spoke about members of the public being genuinely unaware of the criteria that apply to the PUP. The criteria which we have been told apply to the PUP, for example, the criterion of genuinely seeking work, did not exist. That criterion was only put on the record by the former Minister with responsibility for social welfare in his comments on the television at the weekend and then it magically appeared on the gov.iewebsite the next day. It was not a criterion that was attached to the PUP. It may become a criterion after this legislation is passed but it did not exist then. Again, that is inaccurate. Incidentally, it is very worrying if is giving inaccurate information to citizens.

The gov.iewebsite also gave inaccurate information in respect of jobseeker's payments. It said, confusingly: "At present, holiday periods permitted for Jobseeker's payments have been suspended". They had not. Regarding holiday periods, is that holidays abroad or at home? It is unclear. It also said: "Jobseeker's payments will not be made to anyone who travels abroad". It did not specify if that is essential or non-essential travel. These are serious inaccuracies in the information the Government is giving to people. Today, it is being framed as a U-turn but what the Minister is talking about today is just getting back in line with the laws that already exist. She said: "I have asked my officials to amend the regulations so that jobseekers who wish to travel to any of the countries on the green list can do so and continue to receive their payment". First, it would be very useful if the Minister provided a copy of the regulations she is amending to both Houses of the Oireachtas. I have not seen those regulations.


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