The cost of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment Scheme has this week topped €6 billion since it was launched in March of last year, according to the latest figures from the Department of Social Protection.

A total of 473,413 people will receive the payment this week - a reduction of 4,252 compared to last week.

However, this figure does not fully reflect the unemployment situation, as it excludes a further 188,543 people recorded on the Live Register at the end of January. 

When those two groups are combined, almost 662,000 people are entirely dependent on the state for unemployment income supports. 

This week's payments will cost almost €142 million, with a further €12.5 million being paid out separately in arrears to 38,600 people. The vast majority of over 280,000 arrears cases were paid last December. 

A total of 10,941 people across all counties closed their PUP claims over the last seven days, with 9,862 of those doing so to return to work.

The sectors with the largest number of employees closing their Pandemic Unemployment Payment to return to work are Construction (2,369), Wholesale and Retail Trade (1,461) and Manufacturing (1,388). 

The only sector which did not see a reduction in PUP claims this week was the Electrical/Gas/Water Supply sector. 

Dublin had the greatest number of people closing their claims to return to work (2,378), followed by Cork (1,060) and Wexford (619).

The sectors with the highest number of people receiving PUP this week are Accommodation and Food Service activities (110,697) followed by Wholesale and Retail Trade (75,196) and Construction (61,077). 

The highest number of PUP claims by county are in Dublin (148,028) followed by Cork (48,101) and Galway (25,304). 

Around 50% of PUP claimants are receiving the highest rate of €350 per week.

Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys noted that €6 billion has now been paid out for the PUP scheme since its introduction last March.

"To put this into context, during the space of 11 months, the Department has paid almost three times more in PUP than it did in Jobseeker's payments for all of last year," she said. 

She welcomed the fact that for the second time in two weeks, the number of PUP claimants had decreased, with reductions across every county, and pledged that the government would not be found wanting in supporting citizens as they maintained efforts to suppress the virus.

The Minister also reiterated that a range of means-assessed financial supports are available to people in need, including assistance with heating costs and Rent Supplement. 

"I have also extended the protocol between Tusla and my Department until the end of the year for Rent Supplement to be made available to victims of domestic violence. My Department officials will put these arrangements in place for any individual or family on referral from Tusla or a Tusla funded service provider." 

Meanwhile the number of people receiving the Covid-19 Enhanced Illness Benefit has fallen again from 4,707 last week, to 3,999 - a drop of 15% over the last 7 days.