Tuesday, the Office for National Statistics reported that the claimant count rose by 57,100 month-on-month to total 1.51 million in April. The claimant count has not been higher since August 1997, the statistical agency said.

Economists were looking for a larger increase of 85,000. The level for March was revised to 1.46 million.

The ILO jobless rate rose to 7.1% in the three months to March from 6.3% in the previous three months ending December. Economists were looking for a rate of 6.9%. The number of jobless rose by 244,000 over the March quarter and totaled 2.22 million. Over the year, unemployment was up 592,000. These are the largest quarterly increases in the unemployment level and rate since 1981, the ONS said.

The labor market data for the three months to March were actually set for release at 9.30 am London time or 4.30 am ET on May 13, Wednesday. However, the ONS announced earlier on Tuesday that the data would be published today citing an accidental early release of some data.

The agency also said the National Statistician has initiated an inquiry into how this happened.

Redundancies also recorded its highest level since the series began in 1995. For the three months to March, redundancies were 286,000, up 27,000 over the quarter and up 175,000 over the year.

The grimmest figure came from the earnings side. Average earnings including bonuses logged a 0.4% decline in the three months to March 2009 compared with the previous year. This negative annual growth rate is unprecedented since comparable records began in 1991 and is mainly due to lower bonuses in the financial sector, the ONS said.

Stripping out bonuses, average earnings increased 3% in the three months to March 2009 from a year ago and marked its lowest annual growth rate since comparable records began in 2001.

In the three months to April, there were 455,000 job vacancies, 51,000 less than the previous quarter and down 232,000 over the year. These are the lowest vacancy figures since comparable records began in 2001, the agency said. Decline in vacancies were witnessed in all sectors during the quarter with the finance and business services logging the biggest fall of 17,000.

On the employment front, total employment level fell by 157,000 over the previous three months and by 295,000 over the year to reach 29.20 million. Jobs in manufacturing sector dropped by 5.5% over last year in the three months to March and came in at 2.73 million, the lowest since records were started in 1978.

Productivity in the manufacturing sector decline 8% on-year, logging the biggest annual fall since series began in November 1985. Manufacturing unit wage costs were up 9.8% compared with the same period a year earlier.

Reacting to the worrying data from labor market, the Trades Union Congress General Secretary Brendan Barber said, These figures are even worse than expected. Unemployment will almost certainly pass the 2.5 million mark by summer. He called unemployment UK's number one emergency, and urged the government to tap all possible means to address it.

Some people in the City are already talking of recovery. But the only recovery in the real world will be when unemployment starts to fall, he said.

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