A LEADING businessman has claimed a rise in the number of benefit claimants in Southend is partly because they can be a more attractive option than working.

Philip Miller MBE, executive chairman of the Stockvale Group, which owns Adventure Island, Sea Life Adventure and Clarence Yard, made the claim after the latest figures revealed Southend’s place in the benefits table.

The borough is among the highest, and fastest rising, places for the number of benefits claimants, new figures have revealed.

The borough has found itself in the top 20 per cent for the number of people claiming unemployment benefits and the top 20 per cent for the highest increase in new claimants during the past year.

Mr Miller said: “I think a major contributor to the problem is the fact that obtaining what seems to be an ever-growing number of benefits has become attractive to a certain section of society.

“If you can effectively ‘earn’ a living by playing the system, and not have to do a day’s graft, then that becomes the ‘sensible’ option.

“Of course, that doesn’t mean everyone who is unemployed or claiming benefits is doing this.

“Jobs are being lost in central Southend as shops struggle with high business rates, set against a background of ever-increasing living wage demands and rising costs.

“You must remember that without business to supply the cash there will be no money at all for the civic centre and public services at all.

“So, the simple answer really is that the council and Government both need to learn how to control their own profligacy.

“They need to pay themselves less, work harder and encourage business, or we will all be on benefits soon.”

In Southend West and Rochford and Southend East constituencies, the number of people claiming benefits has increased by 48 per cent and 54 per cent respectively between August 2017 and 2018.

In Southend West, 1,215 residents are claiming unemployment benefits.

This is a rise of 395 in the last year.

In Rochford and Southend East, 2,520 people are claiming benefits.

This is an increase of 880 in the last year.

Southend Council has launched a number of initiatives to try and get people back into work along with other agencies.

Councillor James Courtenay, cabinet member for growth said: “ Whilst the council is not involved in the provision of job-seekers benefits (we manage housing benefit), we are working on and leading a number of projects in the borough, that are designed to support people getting back in to work, and our own procurement processes encourage our suppliers to offer employment and training opportunities to local people wherever possible.

“Examples include A Better Start Southend Work Skills project, which works with unemployed parents in the less afluent areas of our borough. Through this programme, we run workshops that give job-seekers an insight into specific industries locally where there are vacancies. Some employers will even guarantee an interview for those in our scheme.

"The project builds skills, confidence and gives introductions to enable people to get in to jobs locally. As we speak there is a group of people attending a tour and workshop in a local organisation, with the aim of supporting them in to working there.

“The Sector Based Skills Academy also provides training to job seekers and guarantees interviews with organisations in sectors that currently have vacancies to fill. The council working in partnership with SACC and the Jobcentre Plus to run basic training in order to build confidence and upskill them so they are prepared and ready for these interviews. Currently we are working with the care industry to help support the unemployed in to work in this sector.”