The burden of the economic downturn has been borne wholly by private sector workers, with public sector employment rising last year by 30,000 to 5.78m. Private sector employment over the same period fell by 105,000 to 23.6m, according to the Office for National Statistics.
The total number of people out of work during the three months to the end of January rose by 165,000 to 2.03m. Economists expect unemployment to top more than 3m by this stage next year, exceeding the peaks reached in the early 1980s and 1990s recessions.
Numbers claiming unemployment benefit have also risen sharply, increasing by 138,400 in February to 1.39m. It was the largest monthly increase since comparable records began in 1971.
The unemployment rate during the three months to the end of January climbed to 6.5 per cent, also the highest level for more than 11 years.
The biggest regional increase over the past year was in Wales, where the jobless rate rose by 2.7 percentage points to 7.6 per cent. In the north-east of England, the proportion of the working population without a job increased by 2.6 percentage points to 8.6 per cent, the highest of any region.
The proportion of people out of work in the West Midlands rose by 2.3 percentage points to 7.9 per cent.
All three regions have suffered as a result of mounting job losses in the manufacturing sector while the northeast has suffered additional collateral damage from the Northern Rock debacle.
The rising tide of unemployment hit all ages, but workers aged over 50 appeared to have suffered worst. Unemployment across this age group rose by almost 35 per cent over the past year. This compared with a 26.2 per cent increase for the country as a whole.
The figures will provide little comfort for the government, with redundancies rising to 266,000 in the latest three months. This was the highest figure since comparable records begin in 1995.
Job vacancies also fell by 74,000 to 482,000 – the lowest level since 2001 when collection of these figures began.
Manufacturing vacancies have fallen by more than 50 per cent over the past 12 months. Job opportunities in the retail and hospitality sector, and finance and business services, were also down by more than third.