PUP may be extended beyond April but at a level affordable over long term: Humphreys

The Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) may be extended beyond its end date of next April, Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys has suggested.

Speaking in the Dáil, she said: “Nobody can predict the trajectory of the virus and it may well be that the payment will be needed beyond next April which is all the more reason why the Government must ensure that it is set at a level which can be sustained for the longer term.”

The PUP had been expected to last only six to 12 weeks when first introduced, Ms Humphreys said.

Given the long-term nature now seen with Covid-19, steps had to be taken to ensure its sustainability.

“It’s my sense we will have to extend it past April,” she added.

Meanwhile, the Dáil was told that workers receiving the reduced €300 PUP had average earnings of €568 before the Covid crisis.

“They are down €200-plus every single week,” Ms Humphreys was told, even as further measures were promised in the Budget next week to assist certain sectors.

The collapse in disposable income was highlighted by Sinn Féin TD Claire Kerrane in a motion to reverse reductions in the PUP.

Her party colleague, Louise O’Reilly, said Fine Gael now had an opportunity to “shed its image as the nasty party” by restoring the PUP to its original level of €350 per week.

But Ms Humphreys said: “Despite what some people might think, we don’t have infinite resources.”

Some were paid much more than they received while they were working, she said.

Given the now long-term nature of the Covid-19 pandemic, steps had to be taken to ensure its sustainability, said the minister.

“We’ll have a Budget next week and I also have to take account of all the other deserving asks from some of the most vulnerable people and sectors in our society,” Ms Humphreys said.

“Our carers, people with disabilities, people who live alone – I think we need to be fair to them also.”

She added: “I am currently exploring options as part of Budget 2021 with a view to providing more clarity and certainty to self-employed workers in this regard.”

Ms Humphreys added: “I know that across Government we will be looking at further targeted supports to assist those sectors which have been hardest hit by the pandemic.”

Ms O’Reilly said mortgage breaks were coming to an end now “because of the Tánaiste’s failure to stand up to the banks”.

She added that electricity prices were also going up at the very time when supports were being cut for people without the possibility of them returning to work.

Ms Kerrane said: “For someone who has lost their job and are now receiving PUP, they still have to pay their mortgage, and the mortgage payment break is up.”

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