People in disadvantaged areas experienced greater employment disruption during the COVID-19 Pandemic

The ESRI, in collaboration with Pobal, have launched a report examining the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on people living in disadvantaged areas in Ireland, as defined by the Pobal Haase Pratschke Deprivation Index. The report, titled ‘Pandemic Unemployment and Social Disadvantage in Ireland’, shows that people living in deprived areas, when compared to those living in more affluent areas, experienced greater disruption to their employment.

The Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) was a social welfare payment for employees and self-employed people who lost all their employment due to the COVID-19 public health emergency and the resulting economic impact of lockdowns and restrictions. The payment was designed as income replacement to mitigate the short-term impact on financial wellbeing that pandemic-related job interruption would cause. This research examines the economic repercussions of the pandemic and the extent to which the proportion and duration of Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) are related to area-level deprivation.

Key findings of the report include:

  1. Compared to affluent areas, pandemic unemployment increased more rapidly among individuals living in deprived areas during lockdown periods.
  2. While Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) rates were higher in more deprived areas during lockdowns, they also declined more rapidly in these areas when restrictions eased. This rapid decline in unemployment may be due to individuals in deprived areas having less discretion in returning to work once restrictions were lifted. It may also reflect the high number of people in deprived areas working in sectors that were most affected by lockdowns, such as retail, accommodation, and food.

These results align with previous research, indicating that individuals living in deprived areas are more likely to work in low-paid jobs that were vulnerable to pandemic-related restrictions and offer limited opportunities for remote working. For example, businesses in the accommodation and food sectors, which contain higher proportions of low paid workers, faced closures during various stages of the pandemic. It is also more likely that individuals in deprived areas had fewer choices regarding their employment decisions, whereas more affluent households had greater autonomy.

It is important to note that this study specifically focuses on PUP recipients, a social welfare payment for individuals who lost all employment due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The analysis does not include other conventional forms of unemployment benefits, such as jobseeker's allowance and jobseeker's benefit.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Anna Shakespeare, CEO of Pobal said:

"This significant research undertaken by the ESRI and Pobal, confirms the negative economic and financial impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on those living in more deprived areas. This may be due to the reduction and closure of operations in industries and sectors which were affected to the greatest extent by public health measures and that those in deprived areas are more likely to work in. It is also an important evidence base for future reviews and evaluations on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in Ireland.

The findings demonstrate that low-income workers, marginalised communities and people living in disadvantaged communities throughout Ireland experienced considerable employment disruption during this period.

This research provides a deeper understanding of the effects of the pandemic on disadvantaged communities and the importance of social income measures during this period to provide additional supports to individuals and families. The critical role played by the community and voluntary sector during the pandemic in supporting people and communities also needs to be emphasised in the context of this research."

Author of the report, Dr Adele Whelan, ESRI, commented:

“The findings of this report highlight economic inequalities in the impact of the pandemic, particularly in relation to area-level deprivation. The higher PUP rates in more deprived areas give emphasis to the vulnerability of individuals in these areas to labour market disruptions resulting from public health restrictions. This is an important consideration for policymakers if future events necessitate lockdown policies.”