Published: 14:03, 23 March 2021
| Updated: 14:28, 23 March 2021
The number of people claiming out-of-work benefits in Kent increased in every part of the county in February, figures published today reveal.
Unemployment claims rose by 3,435 compared to January - a 5.1% rise - bringing the total to 70,095.
That's the most it has been since September last year.
Medway has the largest number of claims at 12,110 and the highest rise, with 635 more cases than in January. The second highest increase was seen in Maidstone, where there were 320 more claims.
Thanet has the second highest number of claims at 8,145.
Dover saw the lowest increase with just 165 more people claiming unemployment benefits in February. And Sevenoaks has the lowest number of claims at 3,025.
Claims have risen by 37,965 (118.1%) year-on-year with 32,130 claims in February 2020, when the total was the highest the county had seen in 19 months.
Unemployment has been fluctuating since it reached 72,952 in May last year as businesses struggle to cope with staying closed for much of the last 12 months.
Between December and January claims dipped by 2.7% but this month's rise of 5.1% represents the largest since it spiked last spring.
Jo James, chief executive of Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce, said: "Until the economy starts to open up, no business is going to know what the demand is so we're going to expect to see these fluctuations.
"Then of course, by end of September, we've got the furlough scheme coming to an end - so we're going to see quite a shift there which probably will go on for a couple of months. I think we're not going to see too much consistency until the end of the year.
"I think unemployment will start to climb. We all expected a rise since furlough was going to end back in January, but we've just been delaying it.
"But now there are positive signs with the government coming out with schemes to look at retraining an existing workforce to look into new markets, help with additional skills and the Kickstart scheme for young people 16 to 24. There are opportunities for people."
Despite Swale having the third most unemployment claims, Sittingbourne has been named the third most resilient town in Britain.
The town is bouncing back because of its local workers according to a survey by London-based retail consultancy, CWM.
Cllr Roger Truelove (Lab), Swale council's leader, said he was not surprised Sittingbourne was more resilient than most and credited "the strong concentration of supermarkets in Sittingbourne and the fact they have been well used over the last year".
"An added factor, too, is the fact that so many people are working from home and likely to spend more in the town than when they were travelling to London to work," he added.
"In this there is great opportunity for the future with people working from home and buying their lunch in town and using the improved opportunities for leisure."