UK unemployment has dropped below seven per cent for the first time since the recession and employment has seen the biggest annual jump in a generation, figures published by the Office for National Statistics today show.

Employment Minister Esther McVey said: “The South West saw its employment level hit a new record high of 2.62 million in the last three months, and nationally, more and more businesses are hiring - so it's a credit to them that Britain is working again.

"But there is still more to do - which is why I’m calling on even more employers in the South West to work with us to tap into the fantastic pool of talent and potential the area has to offer.”

Nationally, unemployment fell by 77,000 in the last three months, taking the unemployment rate to 6.9 per cent for the first time since 2009.

In the largest annual rise in nearly 25 years, the number of people of people in a job rose by 691,000 – more than double the population of Newcastle - bringing the record number of people in work to 30.39 million.

Wages also rose on the year by 1.7 per cent, against yesterday's announcement that March’s inflation had dropped to 1.6 per cent, and job vacancies rose again, up 108,000 over the past year bringing the number of vacancies in the UK economy to 611,000.

The number of people in work has increased by 1.5 million since 2010 - over a million of these jobs are full-time – and the employment rate is now 72.6 per cent, which the Government says shows its long-term economic plan to back enterprise and businesses so they can create jobs is working.

The proportion of women in work also hit a new record of 67.6 per cent - the highest since records began.

Long-term unemployment is down 93,000 on the year, which is the largest annual fall since 1998.

The number of unemployed young people also fell, by 38,000 over the last three months, and has been falling now for the last seven months.

The number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance fell by 30,400 last month and is down 386,100 on the year.

The number of young people claiming JSA has been falling for the last 22 months.

Today Employment Minister Esther McVey was visiting the North East, where employment is increasing and unemployment is falling.

She will be seeing first hand Government schemes in action, such as the event training scheme that produced Jesse J's make-up artist, and Jamie's Italian restaurant in Newcastle, which are help young people increase their skills and find jobs.

This month's Labour Force Survey covers December 2013 to February 2014. The claimant count is for March 2014 and the vacancy count for January 2014 to March 2014.

The number of people in work rose this quarter
• 30.39 million people were in work in December 2013 to February 2014.
• The employment level rose 239,000 on the previous quarter and 691,000 on the year
• The employment rate is 72.6%, up 0.5 points on the quarter and up 1.2 points on the year.