THE Economic Recovery Plan recently announced by the Government, which included a phased reduction of the pandemic unemployment payment, could be a “perfect storm” for vulnerable people, a member of a charity has warned.
The PUP will be maintained at its current rate until September when a “gradual reduction” will commence in increments of €50. It is planned that the scheme will be closed to new applicants from July 1, and will be abolished by February 2022.
Regional coordinator of St Vincent de Paul for the Cork and Kerry area, Gerry Garvey, said he is fearful about the proposed plan. “Our fear is that the rolling back of the payments will coincide with the lifting of an embargo on evictions and utility charges,” he said.
“It is probably a perfect storm, as in the next few months you could have some people facing steep rent increases both for this year and last year.
“We deal with a lot of people on the fringes, and they are concerned that they may be hit with a couple of things at the same time.
“It is a big worry as you also have to factor in the normal costs which occur every autumn such as school books and uniforms. The timing is unfortunate, as this will come on top of this.”
Mr Garvey has appealed for the various Government departments to come together to “ease the burden” on people. “There is a need for some joined-up thinking between the different departments, be it social protection or housing,” he said.
“Perhaps some relief system that would allow an easing of the burden or a contribution towards it for some hardship cases. Alternatively, people will be destitute, and they will be turning to charities like ourselves. We, in turn, will be overwhelmed.”
The regional director said St Vincent de Paul has seen a number of new faces since the pandemic began.
“We had people in trouble last year who previously never had problems,” he said.
“Businesses closed up, and jobs were lost. Pre-Covid to last year, there was a substantial increase of maybe 25% to 30%. This figure hasn’t changed — but it hasn’t dropped either.
“We are concerned about these plans. We are hoping a lot of people will get back on their feet and the economy will rise again. That rising tide won’t lift all the boats, however, and there will be people left in the fringes. They will be the ones coming to us.”
Caitriona Twomey of Cork Penny Dinners is also worried that reducing and eventually ending the PUP will affect people hugely.
“They are taking away a lifeline, which means [people on it] will flounder a lot more,” she said. “Some of them will sink. The people who are really stuck have nowhere to turn.”
She said Cork Penny Dinners are seeing more people than ever before.
“We are worse than ever,” she said. “We are delivering food all over the city and county. Even in recent weeks, there are more people coming.
“There are so many people hurting in many ways. There are a lot of people living on the breadline. It is a vicious circle.
“The Government has to look beyond their pay and look at the pay that others are on. We have people who can’t afford to pay all their bills. The Government has to look at what could drive people over the edge.”