Unemployment reached a 17-year high today after a 118,000 increase in the jobless total, which saw a record number of young people out of work.
The figure jumped to 2.68 million in the three months to November, the worst since the summer of 1994, giving the UK a jobless rate of 8.4%.
The number of unemployed 16 to 24-year-olds increased by 52,000 over the quarter to 1.04 million, the highest since records began in 1992.
And the number of people claiming jobseeker's allowance in December increased by 1,200 to 1.6 million, the highest for a year after the 10th consecutive monthly rise.
Other figures showed that almost a million working days were lost in November as a result of the public sector pensions strike, the highest figure since 1989.
The Office for National Statistics reported that the number of people in full-time employment fell by 57,000 in the latest three months, but there was a 75,000 increase in part-time workers.
There was a 44,000 rise in the number of people working part-time or for themselves because they could not find a full-time job, taking the total to 1.3 million, the highest since comparable records began in 1992.
Employment increased by 18,000 to 29.12 million, while the number of people classed as economically inactive fell by 61,000 to 9.29 million, a rate of 23.1%.
The fall was mainly due to fewer women looking after a family or home, and fewer retired people under the age of 65.
Unemployment increased evenly among men and women in the latest quarter, while the number of people out of work for longer than two years increased by 1,000 to 424,000.
There was a 10,000 fall in the number out of work for more than a year to 857,000.
Average earnings increased by 1.9% in the year to November, down by 0.2 percentage points on the previous month.
Employment Minister Chris Grayling said: "The overall level of unemployment is, and will remain, a major concern for the Government.
"The latest figures reflect the current challenging economic climate but also show more women entering the workforce and more students looking to supplement their income through work.
"When you take into account our welfare reforms, the number of jobseeker allowance claimants has actually fallen.
"Despite the exceptionally difficult economic circumstances, finding work for the unemployed will remain top of the Government's agenda."
John Salt, director at recruitment firm totaljobs.com, said: "Whether or not the UK is technically in recession, for those out of work the situation is already dire enough.
"Today's figures merely confirm what our barometer has been telling us for three months now, that applications per job are at an all-time high of 23, with not enough growth in the labour market to absorb the numbers being laid off. What's more, the signs for 2012 just aren't good.
"The eurozone crisis threatens not only jobs reliant on exports but also in the financial services industries. With retail already struggling following a lacklustre Christmas, it is difficult to see sectors in which we're going to see significant increases in available jobs."
Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB union, said: "This rise in unemployment was made in Downing Street. The truth is that jobs are haemorrhaging in the public and private sectors and no one in the Government seems to know what to do to stop this.
"There are parts of the country in such despair that more than a quarter of households with people of working age have no one in work.
"The number one political priority has to be securing a reduction in unemployment."
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: "These figures are even worse than the bleak economic forecasts predicted, with new records achieved for youth and female unemployment.
"The fear is now that mass joblessness becomes a permanent scar on the UK - with unemployment rising by 1,300 a day towards the end of last year.
"The news for those in work isn't great either, with pay growth falling and more people having to move to into part-time and insecure self-employment.
"We are in the midst of a full-blown jobs crisis that is causing misery for millions and ruining any chance of an economic recovery.
"Ministers must start putting forward bold solutions to address this crisis, starting with a job guarantee for any young person out of work for six months."
Martina Milburn, chief executive of youth charity The Prince's Trust, said: "Britain's jobless generation are losing hope for the future.
"Unemployment can have a devastating effect, not just on future job and wage prospects, but also damaging well-being and mental health.
"Our research shows that unemployed young people are feeling less confident about the future than they did this time last year.
"The Government must work together with charities and employers on courses that are proven to help young people into jobs. Last year, more than three in four young people supported by The Prince's Trust moved into work, education or training."
John Walker, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: "Unemployment figures are still rising and do not look set to improve. We know from our members that small firms are looking to shed staff in the first three months of 2012.
"Job losses from the small business sector would make for a difficult labour market. But we can turn this negative story around, if Government is bolder in its changes to existing employment law to incentivise job creation. Too often, firms are discouraged from taking on new staff by the prospect of red tape."
Charles Levy, senior economist at The Work Foundation, said: "Today's labour market statistics offer some tentative signs that the economy was stabilising at the end of last year. In the three months to November, employment actually increased by 18,000. This comes after very high job losses over the summer.
"This will, however, be of little comfort to the millions of workers who are facing the toughest labour market since the start of the recession. Comparing the three months to November last year with the previous three months, unemployment increased by 118,000."
Unemployment in the regions between September to November was:
Region Total unemployed Change on quarter Unemployment rate
North East 153,000 plus 11,000 12%
North West 307,000 plus 25,000 8.9%
Yorkshire/Humber 270,000 plus 11,000 10.1%
East Midlands 190,000 plus 7,000 8.3%
West Midlands 243,000 plus 9,000 9.2%
East 220,000 plus 18,000 7.2%
London 424,000 minus 1,000 9.9%
South East 284,000 plus 27,000 6.4%
South West 175,000 minus 1,000 6.5%
Wales 130,000 minus 1,000 8.9%
Scotland 231,000 plus 19,000 8.6%
N Ireland 59,000 minus 7,000 6.8%