SOUTH Essex has seen a huge rise in people claiming unemployment benefits - with a 72 per cent increase in Basildon and Southend seeing the biggest jump in 25 years.

New figures reveal that in the first full month of lockdown there was a 56 per cent increase in benefit claimants, from 4,400 in March to 6,860 in April, in Southend.

The jump, described as “terrible” by one councillor, is the biggest single month increase on record, eclipsing even the financial crisis when the largest jump took place January 2009 and February 2009 with a 13 per cent increase.

The picture was even worse for Basildon where the number of people claiming unemployment benefits shot up by 72 per cent, from 3,610 to 6,215 – significantly exceeding any other monthly increase on record.

Basildon Council’s deputy leader, independent councillor Kerry Smith, said: “My heart goes out to people who have lost their jobs and these are really uncertain times.

“It is not like banks have run out of cash and the Government is trying to bail out the economy, this is deliberately putting the brakes on it to save lives and take pressure off of the NHS. Until a solution is found we are going to be in difficult economic weather.”

He continued that it is difficult to predict whether the lost jobs can ever be recovered as it heavily depends on how long the crisis continues.

He added: “If the economy stays paused for a long time, most businesses will be gone.”

Labour Councillor Matt Dent, who is a member of the People Scrutiny Committee, said: “This is terrible news but not entirely surprising given the situation we are in.

“The hope would be that when we get past the lockdown, the economy will bounce back given that it’s a situation where we put the economy on hold rather than it having crashed itself.

“A lot of those jobs will hopefully return but of course that is not much solace for the people behind the statistics right now.”

He added that it is the tourism and leisure industries that are likely to have been hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic but he believes there is an opportunity for the town to eventually “bounce back in a big way” when lockdown is lifted.

The picture was just as stark elsewhere in the region, with Castle Point seeing a 116 per cent rise in claims, Rochford seeing a 108 per cent increase and Uttlesford seeing 106 per cent. The smallest increase in South Essex was Thurrock at 53 per cent.