306,200 people will receive the PUP this week at a cost of just under €90m – down from €102.67m last week.

Over the past seven days, a further 45,997 people closed their PUP claims, with 40,075 doing so to return to work as the Level 5 restrictions were lifted.

As a result, next week’s figures are likely to dip well below 300,000.

In addition to the 306,200 PUP claimants, a further 194,058 people were reported on the Live Register at the end of November.

Of this week’s  306,220 PUP recipients, 159,996 are female, while 146,220 are male.

In total, just over half a million people are totally dependent on the State for unemployment income supports.

The sectors with the highest numbers of PUP claims remain Food Service Activities (88,659) followed by Wholesale and Retail Trade (45,197) and Administrative and Support Service Activities (28,705).

Reflecting the economic areas that were reopening, the top sectors where workers closed their PUP claims to return to work were Accommodation and Food Service Activities (17,478), hairdressers and beauty salons (6,858) and Wholesale and Retail Trade (6,693).

Under-25s represented the largest cohort of people (12,014) who closed claims to return to work.

Welcoming the drop in PUP claims, the Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys said the figure reflected the impact of exiting Level 5 restrictions, which had seen many businesses reopen and thousands of staff return to the workplace.

“This is evident in every county and is another positive development. It means that next week’s figure will see another sizeable decrease,” said Ms Humphreys.

She said that “sheer determination and solidarity” had brought the country to where it is today, and urged everyone looking forward to celebrating Christmas to adhere to public health advice.

“If we continue to focus on suppressing the virus rather than letting our guard down, we will succeed in making Christmas enjoyable for all.”

The Minister also reminded self-employed claimants that they can now retain PUP while earning up to €960 over a period of eight weeks from intermittent or “one-off gigs”.

The previous rule allowed for €480 over four weeks, but that left some claimants at risk of losing the payment if one gig paid over €480.

Ms Humphreys said she did not want to see people turning down work for fear that it might impact their PUP.

Meanwhile a total of 93,657 people aged under 66 have now been medically certified to receive the Covid-19 Enhanced Illness Benefit.