Goodbye Puppy: Pandemic Unemployment Payment Ends

Supporters say it was a remarkable achievement of social policy during extraordinary times.

Critics say he was too generous and acted as a disincentive to work.

Love it or hate it, Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) is no more.

It’s supposed to be temporary

The payment was first introduced when the Covid-19 pandemic hit in March 2020 and was originally intended to be a short-term measure of six weeks.

Two years and €9 billion later, the PUP’s final payments have been issued.

The remaining recipients will transition to job applicant payments beginning Tuesday, if deemed eligible.

The plan closed to new applications on January 22, and final payments to the remaining 44,747 claimants were processed last week.

At one stage, the PUP was paid at a flat rate of €350 per week before being restructured and linked to previous earnings.

A ‘blunt instrument’

The PUP was a universal payment for anyone who lost their job during the pandemic, drawing criticism that it should have been more focused on those who needed it most.

“Certainly there were people from high-income households who got the payment, but it was a move that was implemented very quickly, so it was probably not targeted as efficiently as we would like,” said Conall MacCoille, chief economist at Davy. . .

“A Comptroller and Auditor General Report suggested that perhaps the checks could have been introduced more quickly and there was certainly a degree of fraudulent claims,” ​​he added.

In September of last year, the C&AG released a report that found nearly 10% of PUP claimants were ineligible for the income support scheme.

In a quarter of the cases reviewed by the state spending watchdog, there was no evidence that the claimant had been working before the pandemic, which was one of the eligibility criteria.

Unlike many of our European neighbours, Irish job seekers’ payments are not tied to previous earnings until the PUP came along.

The officials also relied on the individuals’ own statements that they resided in the state.

The Department of Social Protection said at the time that the “emergency” nature of the plan meant the risk of overpayments “would be higher than normal”.

“It was a blunt instrument, it was introduced quickly but it did its job: helping people who suddenly lost their jobs when the pandemic hit,” according to Davy’s Conall MacCoille.

Proponents of the PUP are quick to point out that the levels of fraudulent claims were low as a proportion of the total cost.

“€25m went to people who were not eligible, but that needs to be taken in the context of the €9bn that was spent on the scheme,” said Dr Laura Bambrick, Irish Congress Social Policy Officer. of unions.

A ‘truly remarkable’ scheme

Dr. Bambrick described the speed at which the PUP scheme was launched as “really remarkable.”

“It was designed, agreed upon by the government and in people’s pockets within a fortnight. Normally it takes decades to achieve income protection policies,” he said.

He added that while the pandemic was a global health emergency, it was also a financial collapse that damaged the economy and labor market in unprecedented ways.

“In May 2020, a few weeks after the PUP was introduced, unemployment rose to an unprecedented 32%, double the previous high experienced during the economic crisis.

“At the height of the PUP it reached over 600,000 workers. Over the course of two years, 880,000 workers depended on it at one point or another. That’s a third of the workforce, an unbelievable number,” he said.

Dr. Bambrick also defended the universal character of the payment.

“It had to reach people quickly and it had to be suitable to support them when no other job could be found,” he said.

“A government mandated order was taking away the fundamental right of workers to work and earn, so we had to make sure people were still able to pay their bills.”

A disincentive to work?

“There was some anecdotal evidence that the PUP acted as a disincentive for people to go back to work,” according to Davy’s Conall MacCoille.

“When it was 350 euros a week, it was more advantageous than working part-time and it would not have been something that would have been sustainable in normal economic times, but clearly during the lockdown a lot of people lost their jobs,” he said. .

ICTU’s Dr. Laura Bambrick rejected the narrative that the PUP resulted in people choosing to stay home rather than seek employment.

“We heard claims that it was making people lazy and that it was like winning the lottery, but what we actually saw was that every time the economy reopened, workers were leaving the PUP pay in large numbers,” he said.

“Only 4% of the million people who trusted the PUP were on it for more than a year. People went back to work at the first opportunity.

“The PUP was a success, we know that the risk of poverty would have been substantially higher without this payment,” he added.

PUP Legacy

As we hopefully move into the post-pandemic era, there is a lot of talk about the lessons we have learned from Covid-19 and the things that will stay with us well into the future.

Legislation on paid sick leave and the right to apply for remote work will soon be terminated. Zoom calls, virtual meetings, and the wearing of masks will continue for many people.

The Pandemic Unemployment Payment may be gone, but it will also leave its mark.

Unlike many of our European neighbours, Irish job seekers’ payments were not tied to previous income until the PUP came along.

Now the government is considering using it as a model to reform unemployment benefits and move towards pay-related allowances.

If the legacy of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment will be a fairer and more efficient social protection system, then it will surely be welcome.

Even for those who didn’t feel the love from PUPpy.

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