The unemployment rate was 6.1% for the three months to the end of November, compared with 5.2% in the same period of 2007.
It is the highest jobless rate since the three months to the end of April 1999.
December is the eleventh consecutive month that the claimant count has risen.
The number out of work is set to continue to rise as the seven weeks since the end of November have seen tens of thousands of jobs cut, including more than 27,000 jobs lost when Woolworths finally closed its doors.
Further job cuts were announced on Wednesday:
• Bradford-based conveyancing firm Hammonds Support Systems, said it was going into administration after a sharp drop in business, with the loss of 200 jobs
• TT Electronics said that it was cutting a further 100 jobs in the UK on top of the 400 already announced
• The Unite union said it was concerned that some of the 5,000 job cuts announced by Swedish telecoms firm Ericsson would go in the UK
• J Sainsbury is restructuring its head office team with the loss of more than 200 jobs.
"This is very worrying news at a time when highly skilled workers are losing their jobs in their thousands across the UK," said Peter Skyte, the union's national officer for the IT sector.
"Any cuts in the UK would mean the loss of highly skilled workers, precisely those which the UK and the economy can ill afford to lose."
'Plenty of bad news'
Employment minister Tony McNulty says he is 'disappointed' by the figures
The official figures also showed there were 530,000 job vacancies in the last three months of 2008, down 69,000 from the previous quarter and the lowest figure since records began in 2001.
The total number of people unemployed is widely expected to have passed two million in the last three months of 2008 - those figures will be released in February.
There were 225,000 redundancies in the three month period, which is the highest level since the figure began being compiled in 1995.
"This is a very rapid pace of job shedding," said Alan Clarke at BNP Paribas.
"It is still very early days in this recession and there is plenty of bad news in the pipeline."
The Prince's Trust has warned that a disproportionate number of jobs have been lost by young people.
It said that 45% of the people who have become unemployed in the last three months were under the age of 25.
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