There must be no cut to the €350 weekly Covid-19 pandemic when more than half a million people are still reliant on it, and with many workplaces remaining closed for the foreseeable future.
This is the view of Labour Galway City West councillor Niall McNelis, who is calling on the prospective new Government partners, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, "not to make any cuts" to the Covid-19 payment while "thousands of people" are as yet unable to go back to work.
"It would be wrong to cut the basic income of thousands of workers who are out of work through no fault of their own," Said Cllr McNelis. "The language being used is divisive and straight from the ‘welfare cheats’ playbook the Taoiseach deployed when he was Minister for Social Protection. It would mean the lowest paid in our economy are punished while higher earners retain their payments."
'Our economy is built on low-paid work, and even before this crisis too many workers were living in poverty'
Today will see the Dáil vote on funding for the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, and Cllr McNelis said "absolute certainty" is needed that incomes will be protected until sectors are fully reopened.
Cllr McNelis pointed out that the €350 level was seen as the rate people needed to live on, and based on the kinds of wages those in the most affected sectors ordinarily earned - and those are the very sectors which are "a long way from coming back".
"The same bills are still there with rent, utilities, and all the other costs of living," he said. "We are talking about people who were in employment until the State itself shut down the economy. These were people who were working, who wanted to work, and who want to get back to work as soon as possible."
Cllr McNelis also said such a cut would "not even save much money for the State" as people will be moved to other social welfare payments, and then be likely to be moved onto rent supplement and the Housing Assistance Payment scheme. "Such a move," he said, "would be penny wise and pound foolish."
Similar sentiments have been made by Sinn Féin's Galway East representative Louis O'Hara, who has called for the Covid-19 unemployment payment to be extended until the end of the year.
"This is a hugely stressful time for workers and families who have seen their incomes collapse and they desperately need certainty and support," he said. "Our economy is built on low-paid work, and even before this crisis too many workers were living in poverty. Rather than attacking these workers, the establishment parties should focus on tackling low wages and introducing a living wage of €12.50 per hour."