CLARE’S Independent TD has called on government to stop penalising women who have just had children, by offering the a lower payment than they would receive under the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) scheme.
Addressing the Tánaiste at Leader’s Questions last week, Deputy Michael McNamara said it was an opportune moment to raise the matter given the historic fact that a cabinet member had just had a baby. Congratulating Justice Minister Helen McEntee and her husband, Deputy McNamara said “there is nothing more hopeful than the birth of a baby”.
“We should recall that thousands of mothers across this State, when they went on maternity leave to give birth and bring a life into the world, had their rate of pay reduced from the PUP rate to the maternity benefit rate, which is €245,” the Independent TD continued. “Notwithstanding all the laws we rightly have in the private sector to prevent women from being discriminated against because they, uniquely, give birth, we are quite happy to penalise them for it by reducing their payment from €350 to €245. That begs the question of the rate at which the maternity benefit is set in this country, which cherishes life and must cherish birth. Consider what is required if our economy is to have a future, bearing in mind that the Tánaiste has stressed all this money will have to be paid back. We have a relatively high birth rate in this country and need to maintain it for the good of the economy and society.”
Responding, Leo Varadkar agreed that maternity benefit is too low. “We set the pandemic unemployment payment and the enhanced illness benefit payment rates at €350 per week because that is 70% of average earnings in the sectors most affected, namely construction, retail and hospitality,” he outlined. “The payment is income linked, based on how much a recipient earned before receiving it. I have often said I would like to see a reform of our welfare system so benefits such as illness benefit, maternity benefit and jobseeker’s benefit are income linked. We should do that. A lot of people would oppose that but we should do it. Let us not forget, however, that all of these benefits are paid for through the Social Insurance Fund, which is now back in deficit. If we make these enhancements, we need to have a serious conversation about PRSI and whether employees and employers are willing to pay more for higher benefits. I believe that the more one pays in, the more one should get out, but that means moving to a different system. I am up for discussing it but there is too much talk about free money in this House.”
After being asked by Deputy McNamara if he will address the issue, the Tánaiste said that he would look at the matter with the help of the relevant minister.