New bill allows Pandemic Unemployment Payment for those 'genuinely seeking employment'

The Social Welfare Amendment bill puts the €350 emergency payment on a statutory basis.
New bill allows Pandemic Unemployment Payment for those 'genuinely seeking employment'

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said the bill had nothing to do with the pandemic. Picture: Collins

People on the Pandemic Unemployment Payment must be "genuinely seeking employment" under legislation passed through the Dáil last night.

Up to 104 people had the payment cut for going abroad recently.

The Government has been heavily criticised after it emerged social welfare officers have been carrying out checks at airports to identify recipients who were travelling abroad.

The Social Protection Minister, Heather Humphreys, has insisted recipients were never permitted to travel abroad, but official guidance on the payment was only updated on Monday morning.

The legislation was passed by the Dáil last night, despite attempts from the opposition to have the travel rule removed.

The Social Welfare Amendment bill puts the €350 emergency payment on a statutory basis.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said the bill had nothing to do with the pandemic.

He said: "What is the real agenda behind the bill? It's got nothing to do with the fight against Covid-19.

"It's actually about driving people off the Pandemic Payment, that is what actually is going on.

"This bill gives you the legislative armoury to do it."

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the rule unfairly targets those who have been hardest hit by the virus.

“You have uniquely chosen those who have lost their jobs to be punished should they choose to travel abroad,” she said.

“I want you to accept that this is wrong and, more importantly, I want you to reverse this decision; a decision I understand which was incorporated into social welfare guidance early on Monday morning – just 24 hours after the Tánaiste had set out his position.”

Minister Humphreys has said anyone who travels cannot be available for work because they may be required to self-isolate on their return.

She told Newstalk Breakfast yesterday that the Government had a legal right to stop payments to people travelling abroad.

“We are not in normal circumstances here,” she said. “We are in the middle of a pandemic so, in that context, in order to protect people’s lives, we have temporarily suspended the flexibility that people can continue to receive their unemployment payment when abroad.” Meanwhile, the Free Legal Aid Centre has warned that there is 'no clear legal basis' for cutting the payment for people who travel abroad.

It said the legislation may allow for the suspension of payments in relation to Jobseeker's Benefit but not for other payments.

It called on Minister Humphreys to ensure that no-one is sanctioned for international travel and for anyone who has been penalised to “have their claim reinstated and backdated as a matter of urgency.” The Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said cases where people were unaware they would lose payments before they flew should be re-examined.

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