Unemployment is set to surge past the politically sensitive two million mark this week and is expected to continue increasing all year, with some analysts predicting it will reach 3.3m before the jobs market recovers from the recession.
The number of people looking for work, including those not eligible for benefit, reached almost 1.98m when the figures for the quarter to December were released last month.
New figures to be published on Wednesday by the Office for National Statistics are expected to show that more people are out of work since Labour came to power in 1997, when the total was just over two million.
Job losses have continued to mount across British industry in recent weeks, leading to fears that unemployment will soar well over three million next year on the International Labour Organisation (ILO) measure, which counts people not eligible for benefit.
Howard Archer, chief economist at Global Insight, said he expected this week’s figures to show a rise of 176,000 for the three months to January, taking unemployment to 2.04m.
Mr Archer added that he expects “unemployment to rise to a peak of 3.3m on the ILO measure around late-2010/early-2011”.