A Cork TD has said the Government can afford to restore the higher rate of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) by implementing "serious wealth taxes".
Introducing a debate on a Solidarity People Before Profit motion in the Dáil this morning aimed at restoring the Pandemic Unemployment Payment to €350 a week, Cork North Central TD Mick Barry said supports for people should be increased, given the move to Level 3 restrictions.
"If the virus is strengthening then we argue that the supports for people who have been hit hard by the virus have to be strengthened as well," he said.
Deputy Barry said it was "obscene for Government to say to some of the lowest income people in society, to some of the people who have been hit hardest by the pandemic, to people that have been locked out of their jobs as a result of the virus that 'you are the ones who must tighten your belts, you are the ones who must make sacrifices while we will not even entertain the idea of a debate on the issue of wealth taxes’”.
The blanket €350 payment has been reduced to between €203 and €300 depending on previous income.
In the Dáil today, Deputy Barry questioned why it was right to pay people €350 in March and April but “it’s not okay to pay them now despite the fact their circumstances have not changed”.
The Government, he said, can afford to pay people the higher rate of PUP by introducing strong wealth taxes in the budget.
"We have a budget next Tuesday.
"That budget should do many things, but two of the things that it should do is restore the €350 PUP and introduce serious serious wealth taxes in this country," he said.
Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys said the PUP was introduced as a "temporary six to 12 week payment" and that "nobody thought it would be in place six months later".
She said the cuts to the PUP were made "to ensure the rates of payment were sustainable for the longterm".
Minister Humphreys said the State had already spent just over €3.6 billion on the payment to 800,000 people.
The scheme is expected to cost more than €5.2 billion by April 2021, she said.
"We are able to borrow to help us through this crisis.
"Ultimately, however, those borrowings have to be repaid and that seems to be a point lost on some people in this house," she said.
"The Government remains absolutely committed to supporting people impacted by the pandemic and that is why we have kept PUP open for new applications and extended it until April 2021," she said, adding that "it may well be that the payment will be needed beyond next April".
Sinn Féin TD Thomas Gould was amongst those calling for the higher rate of PUP to be restored.
"From the very beginning the Government has stated ‘we are all in this together’, but the cuts to the PUP have shown that this Government does not include everyone in it together," he said.
"Minister, what I would say to you and your Government - now is the time to show leadership.
"Now is the time to say we understand the implications of the payment, we made a mistake and now we’ll go back on it," he continued.
Cork East TD Seán Sherlock said those currently receiving the PUP, particularly those live entertainment and events sector, may not be able to find work in other sectors because their jobs are quite technical and specified.
"They have lost their jobs through no fault of their own.
"Their ability to pivot into other sectors or to find work in other sectors is just not there.
"That’s the variable that is not being taken into account here," the Labour TD said.
The motion is expected to be voted on at 9:30pm this evening.