The number of people unemployed and claiming benefit rose by 75,700 in November, the biggest increase since March 1991, official data released on Wednesday has shown.
The unemployment rate has now increased to 1.86 million, which is its highest level since November 1997, and up by 137,000 from the previous quarter.
The official statistics also revealed that the claimant count now stands at 1.07 million, up from 996,200 in October.
In response to the latest figures, Dr John Philpott, chief economist at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said that it marked a "return to the dark days of mass joblessness". He added that is now inevitable that things will become bleaker still.
"An annus horribilis awaits the UK jobs market in 2009," he said. "Today's bad news on jobs confirms that the UK labour market has crossed the border into recession. Although there is some comfort in the fact that there are still thousands of vacancies to be had, the number of jobseekers chasing each vacancy is growing by the day as unemployment heads toward at least 2.8 million in 2009."
The data also showed that the number of jobs in the financial and business services sector fell by 72,000 over the three months to September – a sign that the effects of mass redundancies are being felt in this industry.