State spent €12.4bn on Covid-19 measures in last full year of restrictions

State spent €12.4bn on Covid-19 measures in last full year of restrictions

The Department of Health meanwhile saw its expenditure on testing and tracing for Covid increase markedly from €359m to €664m in the second year of the pandemic. Picture: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

Ireland spent more than €12bn on its response to Covid-19 in the last full year of restrictions, the vast majority of it on welfare payments.

The State incurred expenditure of an estimated €12.4bn in the 12 months up until the end of February 2022, with more than half of it or €7.61bn, ascribed to the Department of Social Protection.

The 12-month spend brought Ireland’s total Covid spend up to €29.5bn in the 23 months of the pandemic as at that date.

However, the €12.4bn was substantially less than the €17.1bn incurred in the first full year of the pandemic.

The data, revealed in the annual report on the public service for 2021 by the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG), shows that Covid expenditure was largely steady across most of 2021 — with the exception of last December which saw a spike in spending across Covid’s second Christmas as the Omicron wave of the virus spread across the globe.

In both 2020 and 2021, the three highest spending departments were Social Protection, Health, and Housing and Local Government.

Altogether, the three departments accounted for 86% of the €29.5bn spent as at the end of February 2022.

Splitting the expenditure on Covid shows that the greater part of the money spent by the State during the pandemic went to businesses — €4.9bn worth in the year to end February — according to the C&AG.

Some €3.3bn meanwhile was spent on individuals.

The Department of Social Protection’s spend was, for the most part, split across its two main Covid support schemes — the employment wage subsidy scheme, which helped employers match their workers’ wages despite declining revenues, and the pandemic unemployment payment.

The two schemes incurred expenditure of €4.3bn and €3.1bn across the 12-month period under review, and both saw a gradual decline in the amounts paid out as the year progressed, down from the €11.1bn spent across 2020, as the economy began to reset itself.

The Department of Health meanwhile saw its expenditure on testing and tracing for Covid increase markedly from €359m to €664m in the second year of the pandemic.

In fact, testing spending and expenditure on vaccines accounted for just under half of all the money outlaid by the department in terms of Covid in the year to February 2022.

The vast majority of the spending incurred by the Department of Housing related to the pandemic waiver of rates for commercial businesses, totalling €485m out of the €536m spent in total over the 12 months. The loss of that income was countered by an increase in grant funding, the C&AG said.

An initial rates waiver dating from March 2020 was extended a number of times before a more targeted scheme was put in place for most of 2021.

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