The Government has approved the drafting of new legislation that will allow those receiving the Pandemic Unemployment Payment to have access to Social Insurance Benefits in order to safeguard their future welfare entitlements.

At present, people receiving the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment do not qualify for allocation of either paid or credited PRSI social insurance contributions. 

However, a record of contributions is important, as all social insurance benefits require a minimum number of paid social insurance contributions. In some cases (eg Jobseeker, Illness and Maternity/Paternity Benefit) the contributions must be paid within a specific period prior to accessing the benefit.

Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys, who proposed the legislation, says that when enacted it will ensure that people who lost their jobs or were temporarily laid off during the pandemic will be credited with the same full or "paid" PRSI contributions on their social insurance record they would have accrued if they had remained in work.

As a result, they will not lose out in accessing social insurance benefits.

This will be important to protect future entitlements to both long-term payments like pensions, but also shorter term payments like Illness, Maternity and Paternity Benefits.

Ms Humphreys described the approach of the legislation as fair and right, adding that it would ensure that the social insurance record of workers who lost their jobs due to the health crisis was maintained. 

The legislation will also benefit those on Jobseekers payments who lost their jobs since 13 March, as well as employees on the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme. 

Meanwhile, the number of people claiming the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment has seen another significant drop this week as the economy reopens, but claimants wishing to continue receiving the payment must confirm their eligibility by today, or risk losing the welfare support.

The number of PUP claims fell by 67,300 over the last week, which is the largest weekly decrease since the economy began to reopen, according to the latest figures from the Department of Social Protection.

PUP claims peaked in early May at 598,000, but have dropped this week to 345,600, which is a reduction of 42%, reflecting the gradual resumption of economic activity.

This means that almost half of those who were laid off when the pandemic struck are now back at work.

However, claimants who wish to continue receiving the PUP have until today to confirm their eligibility for the payment at www.MyWelfare.ie.

"Failure to do so may affect their entitlement to continue to receive a payment," the department said.

In addition to around 220,900 people receiving unemployment benefits via Jobseeker's Benefit, and the 345,600 receiving the PUP, a further 410,000 employees are currently having their wages subsidised by the State via the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS).

Just under 67,000 employers have registered for the TWSS, with the State paying out just under €2bn in wage supports under the scheme since 26 March.

Ms Humphreys said it was heartening and reassuring that the phased approach set out in the government's Roadmap to Recovery was now being reflected in the number of people returning to work.

Ms Humphreys said the Government was now finalising its work on preparing the July stimulus package that would drive the way for an economic recovery, adding that she was confident this would help thousands of workers and businesses badly impacted by the pandemic.

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Ms Humphreys said that she was working with her Government colleagues to ensure that there is not a "cliff-edge reduction" for people who are still in receipt of the PUP when it is due to come to an end on 10 August.

She said: "These people have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. I want to make sure there is not a cliff-edge reduction, and that it is fair. 

"I am working with my Government colleagues on deciding the next steps."

Ms Humphreys is also proposing new legislation to Cabinet to attribute PRSI contributions to those who lost jobs to safeguard entitlements to future welfare payments, which she said would be paid for through Exchequer funding.

The PUP scheme was launched on 16 March to assist people facing a deluge of layoffs due to the coronavirus.

It was initially established with a flat rate payment of €350 per week for all workers within the State aged between 18 and 66, regardless of their pre-pandemic earnings.

This meant that some workers, particularly lower paid, part-time employees, were better off on the PUP.

However, last week the Government introduced a two-tier system, whereby those were earning less than €200 per week are now only receiving the equivalent of Jobseeker's Benefit worth €203 per week.

The cut affects almost a quarter of all PUP recipients and around 95,000 will this week receive the new lower rate of benefit, while the remaining 249,800 claimants will continue to qualify for the €350 payment.

The Government stresses that while those affected will lose €147 per week in welfare support payments, they will not be worse off than they were before the pandemic.

The top three sectors seeing a return to work this week were Accommodation and Food Service (12,400), Other Sectors (eg hairdressers and barbers) (5,100) and Wholesale/Retail/Repair of Motor Vehicles (4,200).

The largest cohort returning to work is aged between 35 and 44.

The latest figures also reveal that to date, 52,200 people have been medically certified to receive the €350 per week Covid-19 Enhanced Illness Benefit.

Of those, over 7% (3,882) have actually been diagnosed with the virus, while the remaining 93% (48,318) have been supported to self-isolate on a precautionary basis.

There are 890 people currently receiving a Covid-19 Illness Benefit payment.