Pandemic unemployment payment could be extended for a year, Taoiseach says

Pandemic unemployment payment could be extended for a year, Taoiseach says

Taoiseach Micheál Martin says the government will look at ways to employ artists and writers in schools as a way of supporting them through the pandemic. Picture: Tom Honan/PA Wire

The Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) could be extended for as long as the next year, the Taoiseach has suggested.

Micheál Martin also wants to employ artists and writers in schools as a way of supporting them through the pandemic and has asked education minister Norma Foley to look at this.

The PUP, which supports thousands of people who have been unable to return to work, is due to expire at the end of March, however, Mr Martin has signalled that this will now be extended.

He said the virus has impacted lower-income workers more than higher-income workers and that is clear from the tax returns which are performing better than had been expected when Covid first hit.

But Mr Martin said the Government still has to do more.

"We have to recalibrate and the budget gives us an opportunity to look again at issues like the Pandemic Unemployment Payment, we did change that already now to make it available to new entrants. That was going to be shut off in terms of new entrants, we've changed that.

"We are going to have to revisit some of this ... about looking at a more nine to 12-month time-frame, that's very challenging for Paschal Donohoe and Michael McGrath, both of them are wrestling with this," he told RTÉ's Brendan O'Connor show.

Up until this week, the top rate of PUP payment for those laid off due to the Covid-19 crisis was €350 a week. However, the rates have now been changed to €300, €250 and €203 depending on how much a person earned previously.

Fellow Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen called for the full restoration of the PUP to those who have now been let go in the capital which has now been placed on level three restrictions.

"Those who lose jobs temporarily as a result of level three status should have full PUP payment restored. Economic supports need to be aligned to various levels recognising the value of livelihoods in efforts to protect most vulnerable," Mr Cowen wrote in a tweet.

Mr Martin said the Government will be looking at sector specific measures especially around the arts and culture.

"I think we need to be more imaginative around the social protection area, in terms of what I call the gig economy. You take sound engineers who ordinarily would be self-employed who would have plenty of stuff on, but now might have two or three gigs in 10 days. They're afraid to come off PUP because they want the sustainable income, we've got to marry the two," he said.

The Taoiseach also said he would like to create more opportunities for artists and creatives in schools. 

"There are already very good schemes of artists in residence in schools, writers and so on, I've said to the minister Norma Foley, 'you look at increasing that scheme of giving artists work in schools'."

He said children would benefit and it would keep artists working, "so I'm interested in looking at kind of alternative employment streams as well."

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