The Pandemic Unemployment Payment is to be restored to €350 a week for people who had prior earnings of €400 a week or above, the Cabinet has agreed.

People who were earning between €300 and €400 before the Covid-19 pandemic will get a weekly PUP payment of €300.

Those earning between €200 and €300 per week will get a payment of €250, while anyone with pre-pandemic earnings below €200 will continue to receive €203.  

The Government has also agreed changes to the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme in an effort to keep as many people in employment as possible during the increased restrictions.

Under amendments sanctioned today - which will run until the end of January 2021 - those earning between €151 and €203 per week will now receive €203, while those earning between €203 and €300 will qualify for a payment of €250.

Workers with incomes ranging from €300 to €400 will receive €300, while the remainder of eligible workers earning between €400 and €1,462 will be entitled to a subsidy of €350 - up from €203.

Over 244,000 people are now claiming the PUP - an increase of over 15,000 or 6% in the last week - according to the latest figures from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. 

244,153 individuals will receive the payment this week, up from 228,858 a week ago.  

However, the figures are expected to worsen next week when additional Covid-19 restrictions are likely to be imposed resulting in further business closures. 

The Government expects more than 200,000 more people to be out of work under the new restrictions.

It is expected that the cost of the PUP to the State will rise from €65m this week to €135m a week in the future as a result of the additional jobs losses.

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The PUP statistics do not include the 211,492 people on the Live Register at the end of September. 

Between the PUP and the Live Register, 455,645 people are totally dependent on the state for income support. 

Payments totalling €65.5m will be delivered to PUP claimants this week.

The figures also show that 3,950 people closed their PUP claims in the last seven days, with 2,526 reporting that they are returning to work.

Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys said the figures showed the unprecedented challenging times the country is facing because of the Covid-19 pandemic.  

"I am deeply conscious that people feel anxious and concerned about the prospect of future restrictions. But I know too that we have it in us to get back on top of this virus. We did it before and we can do it again," the Minister said. 

Ms Humphreys said a major factor in managing the behaviour of the virus was being able to reduce the number of people we meet, and acknowledged how hard it was for people being asked to work from home where possible and to refrain from making household visits.

The figures show that the sectors with the highest number of people claiming the PUP last week were Accommodation and Food Services (79,369), Wholesale/Retail Trade (31,834) and Support Service activities (23,273).  

There has also been an increase in the number of people claiming Covid-19 Enhanced Illness Benefit in every county.

The Department stresses that the PUP scheme remains open to new entrants, though applications should be made online at rather than in person. 

Over the last seven days, 3,481 people have been medically certified to receive the Covid-19 Enhanced Illness Benefit, with the biggest increase in numbers in Dublin, followed by Cork and Galway. 

The three counties under Level 4 - Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan - have seen increases in Covid Illness Benefit claims of 163, 173 and 97 respectively over the last week. 

Since March a total of 75,015 people aged under-66 have been certified to receive the benefit.

Additional reporting Ingrid Miley