MIDDLESBROUGH has the highest percentage of people claiming state benefits, a survey has revealed.

The study by the GMB union, shows that the town is 12th in the list of benefit claimants in England and Wales, with 22 per cent of the population relying on state money.

Hartlepool and South Tyneside are in the top 20. Both towns have more than 20 per cent of their population claiming benefits.

The north of England is the area of the country with the highest number of benefit claimants, at more than 1.5m.

That accounts for 18 per cent of population, higher than the 13.5 per cent national average.

Benefits included in the study include jobseekers' allowance, income support, incapacity benefit and disability living allowance.

Paul Kenny, GMB senior official and member of the TUC General Council, said the figures were a result of the decline of British industries, like mining.

He said: "These figures show areas are still suffering from the legacy of the Thatcher years, and the decline of manufacturing, which has continued.

"Trade unions are still picking up the pieces in terms of industrial diseases like asbestos.

"There can be no question of cutting the benefits to these, the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society."