Published: 08:20, 26 January 2021
| Updated: 15:45, 26 January 2021
Unemployment rose 116% last year as lockdown leaves over 68,000 in Kent navigating a difficult job market.
Dorice Bourne was a warehouse operative before lockdown and after being put on furlough in April, believed her job was safe - but she was wrong.
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In July, she and over 20 other workers were made redundant because of Covid-19.
The Maidstone resident has been on universal credit searching for a job ever since.
The 21-year-old said: "I was quite upset about it. I knew a redundancy was coming but I was still very shocked because they had said I was being put on furlough to save me from being made redundant."
Universal credit has helped Dorice pay for bills, run her small online resin works business and travel to job interviews - but finding those jobs is a challenge of its own.
She added: "Before Covid it was very easy to find any job. I wasn’t looking for anything specific so I could apply for any job and get an interview quickly.
"Looking for one now in the middle of the pandemic is extremely hard as not many places are hiring and most shops are shut, so the amount of jobs to apply for are really low.
"It’s hard to find the right hours and you have to look at what they do to protect you from the virus.
"It definitely makes me worried for the future, but I'm hoping it all gets better sooner rather than later."
Dorice is far from alone in facing a difficult and dangerous employment terrain.
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In March 2020, unemployment claims stood at 32,905 when the first lockdown was announced. By May 2020, they stood at 72,380 in Kent and Medway - a rise of 120% in just two months.
In 2019, unemployment only rose 23.8% through the whole year.
The 2020 rise dwarfs the impact of the financial crash of 2008-9. The number of people claiming unemployment rose from 17,460 in July 2008 to 34,192 in May 2009. This is a rise of 95.8% in 10 months.
Since the peak in May, unemployment claims have dropped by 3,565 - down 5%.
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But in the last month, unemployment has risen by just over 1% or 770 claims in Kent and Medway, leaving the total at 68,815.
Medway maintains the highest number of people claiming unemployment benefits with 11,825, while Sevenoaks has the lowest number at 2,895.
The highest rise was also seen in Medway where 130 more claims were counted over Christmas. The smallest rise was in Thanet, with just 10 more claims.
Women made up 42.7% of unemployment claims before lockdown but dropped to 39.3% after the spike in April. By December, women made up 41.6% of claims.
Younger people between 16-24 have a higher rate of unemployment than 25-49 years olds - with 965 and 877 unemployed by year group respectively.
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A number of efforts have been launched to tackle this rise, including the Kickstarter scheme offering young people job placements and the hiring of more than 260 new Job Centre work coaches.
The furlough scheme has been extended until the end of April 2021 with the government continuing to contribute 80% towards wages.
But businesses have continued to struggle through the challenges of ever-changing rules, with some finding they are receiving less support now than last Spring.
Andrew Moody, co-owner of Adventure Kidz soft play centre, let go of 15 of his 30 staff during the first lockdown and was only open for six weeks since March.
He says the furlough scheme did not save the business enough money to cover rent, taxes, insurance, utilities and other bills - and even the £3,000 the centre is given by the government now leaves them in a huge deficit.
Andrew said: "It's out of my hands. It breaks my heart to have to say someone, 'I'm really sorry but you can't continue employment.' It's devastating to people.
"We suffered massively as an industry. Three of my competitors only a couple of miles away have gone bust. They're never to reopen. The leisure and hospitality sector are the ones having the biggest problems.
"We're having to stop doing what we're doing. But it's got to be a fair rule to everybody, the government can't pick and choose. If they're going to do that, then support the people who are forced to close in a full financial support package, not with what they're doing at the moment."
The Aylesford business owner suggested the furlough scheme should be extended after the economy is reopened to give businesses an adjustment period to get back on their feet so staff can keep their jobs.
Jo James, CEO of Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce, said: "The furlough scheme has probably been a godsend in this whole situation. It has enabled many people to retain their jobs.
"We will sadly see quite a lot more redundancies once furlough comes to an end. The government continuing to extend it has been great. But I think we are probably just kicking the can further down the road.
WATCH: Jo James speak about tackling unemployment in 2021
"I think if we had a longer lockdown to start with businesses would have been a little more prepared, knowing in advance how long they were going to be shut for. It has been quite harmful to businesses, this continual in and out of lockdown.
"I would call on the government to set out the measures for the remainder of the year so business people know, if we do go back into yet another lockdown or tiering system, what's going to be available for them."