Ireland’s ‘emergency Keynesian’ (Bremer and McDaniel, 2020) response to the pandemic treated Covid-19 related unemployment as a particularly specific social risk and instituted unprecedented generous support for those who lost their jobs because of the pandemic. Meanwhile, the already unemployed remained on the existing Jobseekers’ payments, provided at a rate of €203 per week, in contrast to the initial Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) rate, €350 per week. The PUP also had the effect of creating a new type of unemployment: ‘pandemic unemployment’, in contrast with the already unemployed: still 'Jobseekers’. Both types of unemployed however, had some of the conditionalities attached to seeking employment suspended. This response paralleled the more generous, but also dualistic, response of Ireland’s Anglo-Saxon neighbour, the UK (Hick and Murphy, 2021).
Conceived of as a temporary response; as realisation grew that the pandemic would not end very rapidly, and as uncertainty about how it would evolve continued, subsequent policy moves have advanced as a tension and balancing act between extending the PUP’s life and rolling back its generosity. These tensions are in turn reflected in and reverberate in several strands of public discourse. These revolve between drawing attention to the disincentive effects of the PUP payment and conversely, discourses which attempt to draw attention to the ‘two-tier system’, and the unequal treatment of those already unemployed in contrast to the pandemic unemployed.
This paper knits together this context and contesting discourses with data drawn from research with people experiencing unemployment, including those unemployed because of the pandemic and those unemployed prior to the pandemic. The findings indicate that recipients of the PUP are almost uniformly positive about the payment, and a broad feeling of unfairness about the government’s dualistic approach is evident amongst the wider set of respondents. Yet concurrently, there are fine grained differences in attitudes that bring dynamics of deservingness and undeservingness into play. This suggests some limits to solidarity and reflect the wider tensions evident in how the PUP has already seen several adjustments, and in how policy and public discourse about the PUP is a contested space. As a case study of attitudes to one particular policy response in one particular country that initially took a relatively generous turn in how at least some unemployment is treated, the findings and analysis presented temper the idea that this is a ‘crisis like no other’ (Georgieva, 2020) with transformative possibilities.