THOUSANDS of unemployed people across Worcestershire are being given free bus travel for the whole of January.

People on unemployment benefits for between three months and a year can travel across the county and beyond without paying a single penny.

The Bus for Jobs scheme, which will help about 3,300 people in the county and up to 800,000 nationwide, is aimed at encouraging job hunters to attend interviews.

All routes covered by operators First, Arriva and the National Express have signed up to the scheme, taking in almost every service in Worcestershire.

Stagecoach, which provides services in Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and Birmingham, has also signed up, so jobseekers can go into other counties if they need to.

It has been launched by the Department for Transport, which says 70 per cent of routes in the UK are covered for the whole month.

Councillor John Smith, cabinet member for highways and transport at Worcestershire County Council, said: “I think it’s fantastic and hope it makes a difference.

“I sit on a charity in Evesham and we’re often getting people come to us and say they’ve got a job interview in Worcester or somewhere like that but can’t afford the fare.

“It is a real problem and we try to help them out. Buses are not cheap these days and the costs of getting around can be an issue.”

It is being done in conjunction with Greener Journeys, a body which represents an alliance of bus and coach service providers.

Claire Haigh, chief executive of the group, said: “In difficult economic times, this scheme will provide a helpful start to the new year, enabling job hunters to travel around more easily in search of work, to job interviews with prospective employers and to training courses which will help them find work.”

Transport Minister Norman Baker said: “Good bus services play a huge role in boosting economic growth.”

The latest data shows 10,114 people in the county are claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance, 552 fewer than at the same stage last year.

People interested in the offer are being asked to contact their local JobCentre Plus.