NEW research suggests the real level of unemployment in Blaenau Gwent is close to 17 per cent of the working age population, the second highest rate in the United Kingdom.

The research, carried out by Sheffield Hallam University, takes the Office of National Statistics (ONS) monthly figures for those claiming Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) and then adds those who claim incapacity benefit.

The researchers then also added the number of those found in the government’s other measurement of the working population, the Labour Force Survey, and add up the discrepancy between those figures and those of the ONS, to find what they term the “real”

percentage of people of working age unemployed.

At 16.7 per cent, Blaenau Gwent had the second highest rate behind Knowsley in Merseyside.

This was almost six per cent above the Welsh average and more than double the UK average of 8.8 per cent.

The figures did not surprise Adrian Curtis, Wales Foodbank Network manager for the Trussell Trust.

He said: “Without meaning to be too pessimistic, the real picture is probably worse when you take in those part-time employed or on the minimum wage, there are a lot of people treading water.”

As the Argus reported Mr Curtis said use of foodbanks in Blaenau Gwent had risen from between 700-800 people in 2008 to around 1,600 people using the services last year, perhaps an indicator of the tough economic climate in the region.

Most people the Argus spoke to felt transport was a significant barrier to those hunting for work.

David Williams, 22, has just started a six-month placement working in sales for Mountain FM radio in Ebbw Vale, supported by the Welsh government’s Jobs Growth Wales scheme. David was unemployed for around ten months before deciding to take a degree at the University of Glamorgan, but was again left hunting for paid work since his course finished in May.

“I have worked for a host of people for free and applied for hundreds of jobs.

“When I was unemployed the first time it got to the stage where I literally would have taken anything to get the money in.

“I think it can be very demoralising for people the longer time goes on. I went away got a first class degree, but still couldn’t get work, it can be very easy to get down and give up.

“Travel is definitely a barrier.

Public transport can take a long time and car travel is very expensive.”

Mr Curtis, said: “We had a man who got into debt and needed to use the foodbank because he was working part-time in retail travelling from Blaenau Gwent to Torfaen because that was the only work he could get, but the travel was costing him so much it was causing him difficulty.

“In our experience most people want to work, it is finding something and getting to it.”

Plaid Cymru’s Jocelyn Davies AM said: “This comprehensive but worrying report goes some way towards confirming Plaid Cymru’s longstanding concerns about the serious structural weaknesses in the Welsh and UK economies. We want to see investment in our people’s skills and education and to upgrade Wales’ transport infrastructure.”