230,400 people are now receiving the Pandemic Unemployment Payment - a drop of 2,000 over the last seven days, according to the latest figures from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. 

However, there has been a slight increase in claimants in Kildare, Laois and Offaly where renewed Covid-19 restrictions were imposed two weeks ago.

The number of claimants rose from 11,200 to 11,400 in Kildare, and from 3,300 to 3,400 in both Laois and Offaly. The figures for all other counties either remained static or fell. 

Minister Heather Humphreys acknowledged that while it was positive that people were continuing to return to work, "...it is clear that the rate of decrease has slowed in recent weeks".

She expressed the hope that in sectors where restrictions still apply, people will be able to return to their jobs once those restrictions ease. 

She acknowledged the increase in PUP claimants in Kildare, Offaly and Laois, saying: "I recognise that the people of these counties were asked to make huge sacrifices to save lives and to protect their families friends and neighbours."

The only sector which experienced an increase in PUP claims this week was construction, where the number of recipients rose from 17,400 to 17,500. 

The overall number of PUP claimants has fallen by 61% since the peak of 598,000 on May 5.

Minister Humphreys also confirmed that people receiving the Pandemic Unemployment Payment are to be allowed to avail of the Back to Education Allowance Scheme without serving the usual waiting period of 9 months for claiming the benefit. 

It permits certain claimants to commence a full-time second or third-level education course of up to four years while continuing to receive a weekly income support. 

Normally claimants would have to have been unemployed for 9 months before being eligible for the grant.

However, in light of the Covid-19 situation, the Department of Social Protection has confirmed that the qualification period for PUP recipients is being waived.

Minister Humphreys said: "This year, in recognition of the difficulties faced by education providers for the upcoming academic year and to ease any stress for the participants, the scheme will include support for blended learning and distance learning opportunities which are not generally supported through the Back to Education Allowance.  This particular measure will be reviewed at the end of the next academic year."

Around 7,000 would have participated in the Back to Education Scheme in the past year. 

In addition to the 230,400 people claiming the PUP, a further 244,600 were on the Live Register as of the end of July. This means that 475,000 are totally reliant on the state for income support.

Another 370,000 employees are having their wages underpinned by the state through the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme. 

Of those eligible for the PUP this week, 60,800 will be receiving the lower rate of €203, while the remaining 169,600 will continue to receive the full €350 payment. 

The top sectors in which employees are returning to work this week are Accommodation and Food Services, Wholesale and Retail Trade/Repair of Motor Vehicles, Construction and Administrative and Support Service Activities, while the largest cohort returning to work is in the 35-44 age group. 

To date, 56,200 people aged under 66 have been medically certified to receive the Covid-19 Enhanced Illness Benefit at a rate of €350. 

Over 7.5% actually contracted the virus, while the remainder were required to self-isolate on a precautionary basis.