The number of people claiming jobseeker’s allowance increased for the 12th month in a row, up by 7,200 in February to 1.6 million, the worst figure since the end of 2009.
But the number of people in work increased by 9,000 in the quarter to January to 29.1 million, while the 28,000 increase in unemployment was the lowest for almost a year.
Other figures from the Office for National Statistics showed that public sector employment fell by 37,000 in the final quarter of 2011 to just under 6 million, while the numbers employed in private firms increased by 45,000 to 23 million.
Public sector employment has fallen by 270,000 in the past year following the government’s spending cuts.
Local government employment fell by 33,000 in the last three months of 2011, central government by 3,000 and civil service by 9,000.
Youth unemployment increased by 16,000 to reach 1.04 million, a jobless rate of 22.5 per cent, while the number of unemployed women jumped by 22,000 to 1.13 million.