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More than four years’ worth of welfare claims processed in a few weeks

The committee, which is examining the Government’s response to the pandemic, heard evidence about the fiscal impact of Covid-19 on the economy.

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Robert Watt, secretary general, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (Screenshot/Oireachtas TV)

Robert Watt, secretary general, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (Screenshot/Oireachtas TV)

Robert Watt, secretary general, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (Screenshot/Oireachtas TV)

More than four years’ worth of welfare claims were processed in just five weeks after strict lockdown measures were introduced across Ireland.

The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection usually receive 200,000 jobseeker claims in a year, however staff processed more than 1.2 million claims in a few weeks.

John McKeon, secretary general at Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, outlined to the Oireachtas special committee on Covid-19 the level of claims and inquires made by the public.

The committee, which is examining the Government’s response to the pandemic, heard evidence about the fiscal impact of Covid-19 on the economy.

Mr McKeon told the committee: “In a normal month, we receive about 100,000 claims across all of our schemes.

“So far, in response to the Covid-19 crisis, the staff of the Department processed over 1.2 million claims from 730,000 people.

“In the five-week period from 13 March alone, they dealt with over four years worth of claims and got them into payment quickly, on a new scheme – the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) – that was itself designed, developed and implemented in a matter of days.”

In March, the Government announced a series of welfare measures which were due to expire this month, however they will be extended until August.

Mr McKeon said how the payments, including the PUP, will change and develop over coming months depending on progress in suppressing the virus and restoring business activity.

“It will also depend on the ability of the State to finance the extraordinarily high levels of expenditure being incurred,” he added.

“The Department is likely to exceed its original budget by some 10 billion euro or more.

“This increase alone is greater than the full estimate for all departments, with the exception of education and health.

“At a likely out-turn of 30 billion euro, the department will this year spend over 15,000 euro for each worker, or, put another way, for every one euro that is forecast to be raised in income tax this year we will spend about 1.60 euro on social welfare.”

Robert Watt, secretary general at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, said the labour market has borne the brunt of the impact of Covid-19 in Ireland.

He told the committee that at the beginning of the year, Ireland was in a position of “full employment”.

“At the end of May, the Covid-19 adjusted-monthly unemployment measure produced by the CSO (Central Statistics Office) showed the unemployment rate at 26%,” Mr Watt added.

“In these exceptional circumstances, the Government has taken significant steps to cushion, where possible, the impact on households and firms.

“These supports seek to minimise the potential longer term effects of the crisis on our economy.”

PA