Unemployment has soared to a 12-year high of more than 2.2 million after a record number of people lost their jobs in recent months, gloomy new figures showed today.
The jobless total increased by 232,000 in the three months to April to reach 2.26 million, the worst figure since the end of 1996.
The number of people claiming jobseeker's allowance increased by 39,300 in May to 1.54 million, the highest total since the summer of 1997.
The so-called claimant count has now increased for 15 months in a row.
Other figures from the Office for National Statistics showed that youth unemployment has reached its worst level since 1994 after a 74,000 increase in the number of 18 to 24-year-olds out of work to 695,000.
Long-term unemployment, counting those out of work for more than a year, increased by 54,000 in the latest quarter to a 10-year high of 515,000.
Meanwhile, the number of people in work fell by 271,000 over the three months to 29.11 million, the biggest quarterly slump since comparable records began in 1971.
Public sector employment increased by 15,000 to more than six million - the highest since comparable records began in 1999 - although most of the increase was because of banking working switching from the private sector under the Government's rescue.
More than 300,000 people were made redundant in the three months to April, an increase of 36,000 on the previous quarter and the highest total since records began in 1995.
The number of workforce jobs was 31 million in March, down by 108,000 on the quarter, while vacancies fell by 38,000 in the quarter to April to 444,000, another record low.
The number of people classed as economically inactive, including those who have given up looking for work, increased by 92,000 in the latest quarter to 7.89 million, a fifth of the working age population.
Average earnings increased by 0.8 per cent in the year to April, an increase of 1.1 per cent on the last month's record low. Excluding bonuses, wages rose by 2.7 per cent, down by 0.3 per cent.
Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB, said: "We may be seeing some slowdown in the numbers losing their jobs. However, GMB is very concerned at the return last week of the greed shoots of the bankers.
"Our annual congress has called for a royal commission on the economy to ensure that vital lessons are learned from the elementary mistakes that led to this bankers' recession."
Margaret Eaton, chairman of the Local Government Association, said: "Every single person being made redundant or having difficulty making ends meet should contact their council to make sure that they are getting all the advice, support and benefits they're eligible for.
"From retraining and finding a new job to filling in housing benefits forms, town halls are there to help people through difficult times.
"Different parts of the country are facing very different levels and types of unemployment. Former industrial areas have been hit by blue collar unemployment, whilst white collar job losses are rising at a much quicker rate in London and the South East."
Labour MP Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) said: "The continued rise in unemployment is very worrying. Unemployment is biting all parts of the economy.
"There is a real danger that we could see the withering away of our manufacturing base and a lost generation of potential as a result of the downturn.
"We need to do more to protect jobs. The introduction of a short-time working subsidy would help ease the pain of the recession to businesses and, importantly, keep people in jobs.
"This would be quick to implement and have positive impact, particularly in manufacturing, which is being hit hard."
Work and Pensions Secretary Yvette Cooper said: "Today's figures show the importance of providing extra help for people and families coping with unemployment.
"Families across Britain are continuing to feel the consequences of the global recession. Unemployment has increased in Britain and across the world, although it is lower here than in the US and the Euro-zone.
"It is vital we do everything we can, both to help people into work right now and to prevent long-term unemployment scarring families and communities for the future.
"That is why we are investing £5 billion extra into helping jobseekers - creating jobs for young people and those in the hardest-hit communities, delivering training and skills, and providing 16,000 extra frontline staff in Jobcentres across the country.
"The figures show the number of new claimants has fallen for the last two months, but many people are still facing significant difficulties and we are determined to provide more help.
"We will not turn our backs on people who need help. Nor will we stand by while people slip into the kind of long-term unemployment or worklessness that scarred families in past recessions."
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: "Economists may argue about whether we are now out of recession and into recovery, but in the real world of Britain's workplaces people are still losing their jobs and finding it harder and harder to get new ones.
"Unemployment is now at its highest level since Autumn 1996 and it will take years, not months, to recover. If we are to avoid the 10% unemployment rates of the 1980s and 1990s it is imperative the Government continues to invest in tackling unemployment.
"Youth unemployment is now at its highest rate for 15 years, and it will get far worse when millions of fresh school leavers and graduates start looking for work in the coming weeks.
"Unemployment leaves a permanent scar on young people's lives and Government must do all it can to stop joblessness blighting another generation's lives.
"The Government's jobs guarantee should soon start to help young people who lost their jobs at the start of the recession - it's exactly the right priority. But people leaving school or college this summer will need help with training and advice long before the 12 months that they will have to wait for the jobs guarantee."
Unemployment in the regions between February and April was:
Region; Total unemployed; Change on quarter; Unemployment rate
North East; 103,000; minus 6,000; 8.3%
North West; 281,000; plus 19,000; 8.2%
Yorkshire/Humber; 211,000; plus 25,000; 8.0%
East Midlands; 173,000; plus 26,000; 7.4%
West Midlands; 249,000; plus 39,000; 9.3%
East; 180,000; plus 15,000; 6.0%
London; 329,000; plus 21,000; 8.1%
South East; 244,000; plus 32,000; 5.5%
South West; 156,000; plus 17,000; 5.8%
Wales; 109,000; no change; 7.6%
Scotland; 176,000; plus 41,000; 6.6%
N Ireland; 49,000; plus 3,000; 6.2%