591,000 people are now receiving the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment, with around 21,000 receiving it for the first time this week. 

That is on top of around 212,000 eligible for standard "non-Covid" Jobseekers benefit of €203 per week, and 337,400 receiving income support through the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme. 

The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Regina Doherty, said the priority now was support all those needing assistance, and to help employers and workers to adjust to the emerging reality that Covid-19 may be with us for a long time to come. 

This week's 7,000 increase in the number receiving the Covid Pandemic Payment is smaller than in previous weeks.

However, it yet again represents record-breaking levels of unemployment and social welfare dependency. 

While 591,000 are now receiving the €350 Covid payment, that is on top of around 212,000 receiving standard Jobseekers Benefit - though the Jobseekers figure tends to fluctuate, as it includes part-time and other atypical workers.

In addition, more than 49,000 employers have now registered for the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme administered by the Revenue Commissioners - with 337,400 employees receiving income support under the scheme. 

In total, 1,140,400 people are now fully or partially dependent on the State for income support. That is just under half the total workforce of 2.3 million. 

While a total of 691,000 applications have been processed for either the Covid Pandemic Payment or Jobseekers Benefit, 64,000 applications were closed - presumably because the employer in question took the employees back to avail of the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme.

Meanwhile 36,100 workers have been medically certified to receive the €350 per week Covid-19 Enhanced Illness Benefit, on the basis that they have either contracted the virus, or been ordered to self-isolate on a precautionary basis.  

Minister Doherty said the smaller increase in numbers on the Covid Pandemic Payment this week would suggest the country had come through the worst of temporary job layoffs. 

"That said, with over a million people in the country now dependent on some level of state provided income support, the scale of the challenge that this health emergency has posed for our national economy and to so many households is now very clear," the Minister said.  

She said the priority now was to continue to support all those needing assistance and to help all employers and workers to adjust to the emerging reality that Covid-19 may be with us for a long time to come. 

"By anticipating which sectors will be most challenged, by identifying what future skills will be in greater demand and by providing the most effective job activation and employment supports, we will help as many people as possible back to work as quickly as possible," she said. 

She noted that she had convened the first meeting of a new Labour Market Advisory Council last Friday to advise on public policy responses to support labour market recovery to support labour market recovery.

The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection also stressed that it carries out checks with the Revenue Commissioners to confirm eligibility for payments.

Two weeks ago, the Department confirmed to RTÉ News that applicants for the new Pandemic Unemployment Payment are not required to provide proof that they have been made redundant or laid off to qualify for the Pandemic Unemployment Payment, though such proof is required to apply for Jobseekers Benefit. 

Today's statement says: "Integrity checks are made against records already held by the Department including Public Service Information data dn cross checks with payments on other schemes."

Budget Office concerned over 'lack of clarity'

Meanwhile, the Parliamentary Budget Office has said the 'lack of clarity and detail' provided to the Dáil about the cost of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment and Temporary Work Subsidy Scheme is a concern. 

In a publication issued today, the PBO estimates the combined schemes could cost between €3.87 and €3.93 billion over a 12-week period. 

It contrasts the €3.7bn estimate given by the Government in late March and the €4 to €4.5bn estimate outlined in last week's Stability Programme update from the Department of Finance. 

It also highlights that a vote in the Dáil will be needed by May or June to approve the revised spending to cover the pandemic payments. This is because by that stage it is estimated that 80% of the previous year's net allocation will have been reached and that is the limit set by the rules. 

It says the impact of Covid-19 on the economy is likely to be prolonged, even if businesses are able to reopen in June. Tourism, it notes, may be particularly badly affected. 

The PBO also notes that workers under the TWSS have little incentive to apply for the Covid Illness Benefit. This, it believes, may mean that the prevalence of the virus in the workforce is underestimated. 

In a further breakdown of recipients of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment, the Department confirmed that 337,000 are male, while 254,000 are female. 

The sectors with the highest number of PUP recipients are accommodation and food service activities (127,000), followed by wholesale and retail trade (89,300) and construction (78,500).
 
The counties with the highest numbers of applications were Dublin (171,700), Cork (61,200) and Galway (32,000) - while Leitrim had the fewest at 4,100.