welfare reforms | 

Jobseekers' payments to be linked to previous pay - among reforms considered by minister

The minister said there should be a 'cushion' for people who become unemployed so they can still 'pay their bills and live their life'
Minister Heather Humphreys

Minister Heather Humphreys

Philip Ryan and Allison Bray

Jobseekers payments linked to earnings before becoming unemployed and the reintroduction of the requirement to personally attend a post office to receive such benefits are among major reforms of the welfare system currently under consideration, according to Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys.

In an interview with the Irish Independent, Ms Humphreys told political editor Philip Ryan that the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) model which provides supports to people based on their earnings before Covid restrictions forced them out of work is being considered as the template in the new system her officials are currently examining.

She also revealed plans to reintroduce the requirement for people to attend their local post office to receive their Jobseeker’s payment as part of a new attempt to crack down on welfare fraud.

The minister also signalled support for a new pensions commission that would advise the Government on how much rates should be increased ahead of Budgets.

In addition, she insisted the soon-to-be-introduced auto-enrolment pension system will operate in parallel with the state pension and workers will be entitled to both payments on retirement.

Ms Humphreys said her time working in credit unions has formed her view that a pay-related welfare system should be introduced as soon as possible.

“I was there working in credit unions during the crash in 2009 and 2010 when people lost a job suddenly and these were people that never lost their jobs before,” she said.

“It’s a bit like what happened during the pandemic – people lost their jobs who had never lost a job before and they are faced with a sudden drop in their income.”

The minister said there should be a “cushion” for people who become unemployed so they can still “pay their bills and live their life” while looking for a new job.

However, she also said the welfare system “should not pay you more than you were being paid before you became unemployed”.

Ms Humphreys is not the first government minister to propose welfare reforms involving graduated payments based on a person’s income.

However, she said the PUP system showed it was possible to link payments to incomes.

“What we have at the minute with the PUP is five different bands and I think that we can learn from that,” she said.

“Obviously, we were still in the middle of this pandemic but it’s something I want to bring forward and I’d like to look at proposals.

“I’ve asked my officials to look at that and to come forward with proposals on pay-related benefits.”

The current PUP rates range from €350 to €203 based on how much a person was earning before pandemic regulations forced them into unemployment.

Ms Humphreys said she also plans to phase out PUP over the coming year, which will see those remaining on the payment paid a similar rate to the current €203 Jobseeker’s allowance.

She added that people in receipt of employment benefits will soon have to present themselves to their local post office to receive their weekly payment.

The Jobseeker’s payment process went online during the pandemic, which opened the system to more abuse.

Reintroducing the need for welfare recipients to show up at the post office will have the twin benefits of helping revitalise the post office network and making fraud harder.

“I’m going to be looking now in the new year to move the unemployment payments back to the post offices because in fairness, the post office was the place where people collected their money before the pandemic, and that was always the case.

“Retail has reopened and is operating safely, the post offices have always been open and what I want to do is support the rural post offices. I think it’s a very good control measure in terms of people having to present in their post offices to get the payment,” she said.

“Say, God forbid, somebody dies and the money keeps on going into their account. But if they had to present in the post office, that wouldn’t happen.”

The minister is also facing big decisions in the new year in the wake of the publication of the report of the Pensions Commission which sets out proposals to delay the increase in the state pension age to 67 by another seven years, but also proposes increases in PRSI contributions for the self-employed.

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