Minister for Work Margaret Hodge today claimed that the UK labour market was at its strongest for decades.
Official labour market figures from the Office for National Statistics showed a small fall of 0.1 per cent in the number of people unemployed, and an increase of 87,000 in the numbers of people employed in the three months to March 2005, compared with the last quarter of 2004.
But the number of long-term unemployed - those unemployed for 12 months or more - rose by 14,000 to 289,000 over the same period.
Figures for April also showed an increase of 8,100 among people claiming benefits. Although this is down 32,100 on the same month last year, there has been an average monthly increase of 8,500 in the last three months, with the total number of people claiming benefits now standing at 839,400.
"Today's figures mean we start the government's historic third term with the strongest labour market for decades: employment at near record levels and unemployment the lowest for 30 years," said Ms Hodge.
"With nearly three quarters of working age people in work, we have the highest employment rate of the major world economies."
But Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Malcolm Rifkind expressed concern over the further rise in benefit claims.
He said: "These figures are terrible news for all the people who've lost their jobs. With benefit claims rising month on month for the last year, Labour now needs to get a grip on welfare reform.
"Their New Deal has failed, there are a million people trapped on incapacity benefit who want to work and there are a million young people not in work or education. Labour's welfare regime is in tatters".