More than 500,000 claim social welfare supports as Covid-19 causes 'economic emergency'

More than 500,000 claim social welfare supports as Covid-19 causes 'economic emergency'

Record 513,350 claim social welfare due to virus crisis

A record 500,000-plus people in Ireland are claiming social welfare support, as workers lose their jobs or face sharp pay cuts because of the coronavirus shutdown.

Some 513,350 people — around 20% of the labour force — are now either on the live register or are claiming a social welfare payment, the unprecedented figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) show.

Over 283,000 people were receiving the Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment at the end of March, just a fortnight after it was introduced.

Additionally, there were 207,200 people on the seasonally adjusted live register at the end of March, a jump of 24,400 on the previous month.

A further 25,104 people were receiving the Government’s temporary Covid-19 wage subsidy scheme.

In January, Ireland was approaching full employment, with a record number of people at work here.

Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty said the figures are “a stark reminder” of the impact Covid-19 has had on the economy and the scale of the employment challenge the country now faces.

“This is, perhaps, the most unique live-register data ever published by the CSO and reflects both the huge shock to the labour market, arising from the public health measures to address the Covid pandemic, and the statistical challenge faced by the CSO to accurately measure unemployment in these circumstances,” said Ms Doherty.

“When the last live-register figures were published, in February, we recorded a further fall in the numbers and we were still talking about being, technically, at full employment.

The Covid emergency has completely up-ended that narrative. The crucial challenge for the Government is that we don’t let what is a temporary health emergency become a permanent economic crisis.

Andrew Webb, chief economist with Grant Thornton Ireland, said the figures reflect the extent of the “economic emergency” now unfolding.

“While many hope that the economic path this year reflects a V shape — meaning a sharp decline followed by an equally sharp bounce back — the longer we remain in this state, the more difficult it will be to kick-start the economy,” said Mr Webb.

Meanwhile, 36,000 employers are now registered with Revenue for the temporary Covid-19 wage subsidy scheme — an increase of more than 10,000 since Monday evening.

The Covid-19 wage subsidy scheme allows employers to pay their employees during the current pandemic.

The State will refund employers up to 70% of an employee’s after-tax wages, up to a level of €410.

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