THOUSANDS of people living in East Lancashire have no qualifications and are among the least qualified in England, it has been revealed.

More than 20 per cent of residents aged between 16 and 64 in Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Pendle and Hyndburn do not have a single qualification to their name, figures released by the Office for National Statistics showed.

In Blackburn with Darwen, 21,230 people said they had no qualifications, 22.6 per cent of the population.

The figure is the worst in the north west, and ranked 12th out of 348 local authorities.

In Burnley, 12,026 people are completely unqualified, or 21.6 per cent of the population, making the town the 25th worst in England and Wales.

Pendle and Hyndburn also featured in the top 40, at 29th and 37th respectively.

The figures were described as ‘surprising’ by Burnley MP Gordon Birtwistle.

The LibDem said: “If you look at the other side of the coin, 80 per cent of people in Burnley do have qualifications, but I’m surprised the figure is so low.

“If you look at the younger people, it will be higher, but people in their 50s and 60s were brought up to go to work. We left school at 15 with no qualifications, got an apprenticeship and job.

“You don’t need qualifications to do everything although they are helpful. I left school with none but I went to night school and got some afterwards.”

Mr Birtwistle said the figures did not necessarily reflect badly on people from East Lancashire.

He added: “These people are probably harder working because if you don’t have qualifications, you have to work harder to succeed.”

Outgoing Blackburn MP Jack Straw said: “Schools and college standards have increased dramatically, especially since Blackburn with Darwen became a unitary authority, and in time we will move up the table.

Hyndburn and Haslingden MP Graham Jones added: “This goes back to the demise of the cotton industry, and the closing of the engineering works in the 80s. Skilled jobs have been replaced by low or no skilled jobs.

“A huge amount was put into education and training by the last Labour government but what you tend to find is people who go and get qualifications, and are forced to move out the area as they get promoted or seek jobs that suit their skills.”

In stark contrast to most of the figures, almost one third of Ribble Valley residents have qualifications from a higher education establishment, such as a university.

Ribble Valley came 300th out of 348 authorities for residents without qualifications.

Rossendale came 117th.