Covid 19 Pandemic Unemployment Payments in the Western Region


Continuing our analysis of the economic and social impacts of the Covid 19 pandemic on the Western Region it is useful to look at the number in Western Region counties in receipt of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) today, 19th May.

The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection has provided a county breakdown for the (PUP) payments , valued at €201.8m, just issued to 585,000 people (of which 252,800 are female and 331,800 are male).  The Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) is an emergency payment for employees and the self-employed who have lost their income and are fully unemployed due to the pandemic. It is paid at a rate of €350 per week into a recipient’s bank account.

While the PUP is the most significant payment, there are also over 54,000 employers who have registered with the Revenue Commissioners for the Temporary Covid-19 Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS) with at least one subsidy being paid in respect of over 464,000 people under that scheme (there is no county breakdown available for this).  These payments are in addition to the 214,700 people who were reported on the Live Register as of the end of April[1][2].


The Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) in the Western Region

Of the 585,000 in receipt of the payment, 102,800 are in the Western Region.  This accounts for 17.6% of the national total while the Western Region accounted for 16.8% of the Labour Force in 2016 (the most recent data at this level).  The number in receipt of the PUP has fallen slightly (2.2%)  from 598,000 on 5th May (104,900 in the Western Region) as some recipients have begun to return to work and some employers have entered the TWSS.

Figure 1 shows the number of people in receipt of the PUP in the Western Region counties and in Kerry and Limerick, which, along with the Western Region counties, make up the Atlantic Economic Corridor (AEC).  In the Region, Galway (31,800) and Donegal (22,200) have the most people in receipt of the payment, with more than 20,000 people also receiving the payment in Kerry and Limerick.  Leitrim (4,000), Roscommon, (6,900) and Sligo (7,500), the smaller counties, have the lowest number of recipients (and the smallest numbers nationally, along with Longford (4,500) and Carlow (7,500)).


Figure 1: Number of people in receipt of Pandemic Unemployment Payment on 19th May in Western Region and AEC counties

Source:  Appendix 2


Clearly the most populous counties have the highest numbers of recipients so it is more useful to consider the percentage of the Labour Force in receipt of the payment.  The most recent available county data on the size of the Labour Force is from Census 2016, and although the national labour force has increased since then, the Census data is used here[3] to allow for a comparison of rates by county (Fig 2).

Nationally (using the 2016 denominator), 25% of the labour force were in receipt of the PUP, but 27% of those in the Western Region labour force were receiving it.  There is very significant variation among Western Region counties, with 31% of the labour force in Donegal in receipt of PUP but only 23% of those in Roscommon (the only Western Region county to be below the state average).  Looking at the other AEC counties, Limerick (24%) is also lower than the State but Kerry, like Donegal, is very high (31%).


Figure 2: Percentage of County Labour Force (2016) in receipt of Pandemic Unemployment Payment

Source:  Appendix 2 and  CSO, Census 2016 Summary Results – Part 2. Table EZ011


There is no county breakdown available for the Temporary Covid-19 Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS) which some unemployed workers receive instead of the PUP and so it is not clear what influence this would have on these figures.  The importance of different sectors for employment discussed in a previous blog, and in turn the different impact of Covid 19 public health measures on various sectors, all affect the level of PUP payments in each county.


Reliance on key sectors

The job losses have been largest in sectors where economic activity is difficult or impossible because of public health measures and social distancing guidelines (the recent Working Paper from the DEASP discusses sectors in more detail)   Three sectors, Accommodation and Food Services  (21.3%), Wholesale and Retail (15.0%) and Construction (13.1%) together account for almost half (49.4%) of all those in receipt of the PUP (Figure 3).


Figure 3: Pandemic Unemployment Payments – Sector Breakdown, Payment 19th May.

Source:  Appendix 2


This is in line with the most recent CSO Business Impact of COVID-19 Survey 20 April to 3 May 2020 (published 18th May) which shows that 69.1% of enterprises in Accommodation and Food services ceased trading, either temporarily or permanently while two thirds (66.7%) of responding enterprises in the Construction sector had ceased trading either temporarily or permanently as of 3 May 2020.

The Western Region is particularly reliant on these sectors (as shown in Census 2016) with 12.7% of total employment in 2016 in Wholesale and Retail and higher dependency on Accommodation and  Food Services in the Western Region (6.9%) and Construction (5.4%) than the rest of the state (5.6% in Accommodation and Food; 5.0% in Construction).

While the county data for the sectoral breakdown of the PUP is not available, Figure 4[4] is taken from the recent DEASP Working Paper (PDF 1.7MB) which shows the breakdown of the payments in each county for the week ending 17th April[5].  The importance of the Accommodation and Food Services sector in the Region, and along the Atlantic Economic Corridor, is clear.


Figure 4: Pandemic Unemployment Payment- Sectoral Breakdown by County

Source: DEASP Working Paper , May 2020 Figure 6 . Apologies for the poor quality. The key sector of Accom & Food is at the bottom (dark blue), Construction is large blue section in the middle and Wholesale & Retail is at the top (orange).


The Accommodation and Food sector is most important along the Western Seaboard , this takes in the five counties (Kerry, Sligo, Clare, Mayo and Galway) with the greatest proportion of those claiming the PUP in this sector. In Kerry almost 30% of those claiming the PUP were employed in Accommodation and Food services, along with more than a quarter of those claiming PUP in Sligo, Clare and Galway, and more than 20% in Donegal, Leitrim and Limerick.  Of the Western Region counties, only Roscommon had fewer than 20% of PUP claimants in that sector.  This is in line with its relatively low percentage in receipt of the PUP (Fig 2 above).



While there is variation in the impact of the Covid 19 among Western Region counties, the consequences for the Region as a whole are clearly significant.  As discussed previously  the pattern of employment in the Western Region compared to the rest of the state has both positive and negative aspects in this current crisis.  Higher dependence on Accommodation and Food services means more vulnerability but, in the short term, the greater reliance on public service employment can provide more stability and resilience.

As the ESRI noted, there was an almost total decline in certain types of economic activity from mid-March onwards.    With some working in Wholesale and Retail able to return to work this week (18th May), and more expected form the 8th June, we can expect some decrease in the numbers receiving the PUP in the next payment round but Accommodation and Food services such as cafes, restaurants and pubs will main closed longer.  As many outlets, particularly in the retail, food and hospitality sectors, simply stopped trading and in these key sectors remote working was generally not an option, it is not clear how many of these will be in a position to resume trading when the shutdown period ends.

This series of posts brings together new data and previous WDC analyses and examines them from the perspective of the possible impacts of the Covid 19 pandemic on the regional economy.  The posts aim to develop our understanding of what may be happening at a regional level and what will need to be done in the later phases of the public health emergency and beyond, but they are early interpretations and should be viewed as a work in progress rather than a definitive commentary.


Helen McHenry


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the WDC


[1] Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection  Update on Payments Awarded for Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment and Enhanced Illness Benefit

[2] Covid-19 Enhanced Illness Benefit is also payable and of the 44,600 people medically certified for receipt 6,900 (15.5%) are in Western Region counties. This payment predominantly relates to applications in respect of people who have been advised by their GP to self-isolate together with a smaller number in respect of people who have been diagnosed with Covid-19.

[3] The Labour Force in the State in Census 2016 was 2, 304,037, while the most recent estimates of the labour force, in Q4 2019 from the Labour Force Survey, was 2,471,700, an increase of 167,663 or 7.3%.

[4] Figure 6 in the DEASP Working Paper

[5] Data on county sectors provisional and subject to revision

Hospitality plays a larger role in employment & enterprise in the Western Region

The WDC has just published its latest Regional Sectoral Profile which examines the region’s fifth largest employment sector – Accommodation & Food Service.  Both the detailed report ‘Accommodation & Food Service Sector in the Western Region: Regional Sectoral Profileand a two-page summaryWDC Insights: Accommodation & Food Service Sector in the Western Region’ can be downloaded here

Accommodation & Food Service includes all those working in hotels, guesthouses, pubs, clubs, restaurants, takeaways, coffee shops, catering companies and mobile food / coffee vans.  Essentially it is the hospitality industry.  The Western Region is home to 19.7% of everyone working in hospitality in Ireland and 23.7% of all of the sector’s enterprises.

Accommodation & Food Service as a share of total employment 

According to Census 2016, 23,038 people were employed in Accommodation & Food Service in the Western Region.  It plays a greater role in the region’s labour market than nationally (Fig. 1) accounting for 6.9% of total employment compared with 5.8%.  Among western counties, it is most important in Galway City at 9.9%, followed by Donegal and Mayo.  These three counties are among the top five in Ireland in terms of the share of their workforce engaged in hospitality.  Roscommon has the lowest share in the region and is fourth lowest in the state.

Fig. 1: Percentage of total employment in Accommodation & Food Service in Western Region and state, 2016

Source: CSO, Census 2016: Summary Results Part 2, Table EZ011

At 27.6% of total employment, Clifden has the highest share working in hospitality of Ireland’s 200 towns and cities (1,500+ population) with Bundoran (21.7%), Westport (21.1%), Donegal town (20.3%) and Carrick-on-Shannon (15%) also among the top 10 towns in Ireland.   At under 6%, Ballyhaunis, Ballymote and Boyle have the lowest shares working in the sector in the region.

Employment by gender 

Hospitality is a more important employer for women than men (Fig. 2) with 8.2% of all working women and 5.8% of all working men in the Western Region working in the sector.  The sector plays a more significant role in both female and male employment in the region than nationally, most notably for women.

Galway City, Donegal and Mayo are where hospitality is most important for female employment employing close to 1 in 10 of all women.  In the case of Donegal and Mayo the sector is considerably more important for women’s jobs than men’s.  Galway City is the only area where hospitality is more important to male than female employment however the shares are quite similar indicating the sector is more gender-balanced, as it also seems to be in Sligo.

Fig. 2: Percentage of total male and total female employment that is in Accommodation & Food Service in Western Region and state, 2016

Source: CSO, Census 2016: Summary Results Part 2, Table EZ011

Self-employment in Accommodation & Food Service

14.1% (3,237 people) of people working in the sector are self-employed (employer or own account worker). The Western Region has a considerably higher incidence of self-employment than the national average (11.5%).  This could indicate that hospitality operations in the Western Region tend to be smaller in scale with fewer employees and that owner-manager/family-run businesses are more common.  The extent of self-employment declined between 2011 and 2016, most strongly in more rural counties.

Accommodation & Food Service Enterprises

In 2016 there were 4,358 Accommodation & Food Service enterprises registered in the Western Region which was 23.7% of all such enterprises in the state.  This is the sector where the region accounts for its highest share of all enterprises nationally.

Hospitality accounted for 10.2% of all business economy[1] enterprises registered in the Western Region 2016.  Donegal, Leitrim and Mayo have the highest share of enterprises in the sector at 11+% showing the importance of the sector in their overall enterprise profile.

Key Policy Issues for the Western Region’s Hospitality Sector

Accommodation & Food Service plays a larger role than nationally in the Western Region’s economy, in terms of its employment profile and enterprise base.  Any changes in demand for this sector e.g. from Brexit, an economic downturn, will have a particularly large impact on the region and national policy needs to address issues specific to the region such as improved accessibility for visitors and the viability of rural hospitality businesses relying on local demand.

As it is quite widely distributed, hospitality helps to sustain the regional and rural economy and is becoming an increasingly important reason for people to visit town centres. Therefore it is a critical element in town centre renewal efforts.  It is also an important source of jobs for those with lower skills or limited experience, whose rights need to be protected, as well as providing highly skilled occupations and considerable opportunities for entrepreneurship.  Self-employment, while still higher in the region than elsewhere, is declining and it is important to support and encourage self-employment to maintain the diversity of the region’s hospitality offering.

Hospitality is highly sensitive to changing economic conditions which influence both the level of disposable income of local residents and overseas and domestic tourism activity. The balance between local and tourist demand in sustaining the hospitality sector varies considerably across the region (from tourism ‘hotspots’ to small rural towns depending on local custom) and policy aimed at strengthening the sector needs to be tailored to the specific circumstances of different areas.  Rural and border counties are particularly exposed to Brexit while the sector as a whole needs to adapt to emerging trends e.g. Airbnb, changing demographics, low carbon economy.

Download Accommodation & Food Service Sector in the Western Region: Regional Sectoral Profile and WDC Insights: Accommodation & Food Service sector in the Western Region here

The report also examines data on overseas and domestic tourism revenue and numbers to the Western Region, which will be the subject of a future post.


Pauline White

[1] Business economy includes all economic sectors except Agriculture, Forestry & Fishing, Public Administration & Defence, Education, Health & Social Work and Other Services.