The number of people in work has reached a record high after further falls in unemployment, fuelled by more self-employment.

It was the largest quarterly rise since records began over 40 years ago, according to figures published by the Office for National Statistics this morning.

More than 30.4 million people are now in work - the highest since records began in 1971 - while self-employment has also reached a record high of 4.5 million.

The number of people working for themselves jumped by 183,000 in the quarter to March, compared with a rise of 375,000 over the past year.

The jobless rate is now 6.8 per cent after unemployment fell by 133,000 to 2.2 million, the lowest for five years.

The number of unemployed young people fell by 48,000 in the last three months, and has been falling now for the last eight months. Youth unemployment excluding those in full-time education is now at its lowest level since 2008.

Other data from the Office for National Statistics showed that jobseeker's allowance claimants fell by 25,100 in April to 1.12 million, the 18th consecutive monthly reduction.

Meanwhile, average earnings increased by 1.7 per cent in the year to March, slightly ahead of the latest CPI inflation rate of 1.6 per cent - the first time this has happened for four years.

The number of economically-inactive people fell by 85,000 in the latest quarter to 8.85 million, while long-term and youth unemployment also fell.

The number of people out of work for over a year was down by 32,000 to 813,000, with unemployment among 16 to 24-year-olds falling by 48,000 to 868,000, the lowest figure for five years.

Unemployment has fallen by more than 300,000 over the past year, giving jobless rates of seven per cent for men and 6.4 per cent for women.

The number of people in a job rose 283,000 in the last three months - the largest quarterly increase in 43 years. The number of unemployed young people has been falling for the last eight months.

Minister for Employment Esther McVey said: "As the recovery takes hold, more people are able to get a job or set up their own business and become the employers of tomorrow.

"Each and every person who has made a new start, or hired someone new, is helping to make Britain a more prosperous and confident place to be.

"We will continue to support those in and out of work who want to get on and fulfil their ambitions for a more secure future."

Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted: "There's more to do, but it's welcome unemployment is down again. More jobs means more financial security for people."

And Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: "We are starting to see the British economy firing on all cylinders and this means more people are in work today than ever before.

"We have fewer unemployed young people, falling long-term unemployment and the highest ever female employment rate.

"The coalition Government is not just focused on balancing the books, but also on creating more jobs and growth outside of London and building a fairer society for this generation and the next."

GMB general secretary Paul Kenny said: "GMB members welcome the continuing recovery but recognise that there is a very long way to go to climb out of the hole caused by the recession.

"There is a growing recognition that, as a result of demographic factors, GDP (gross domestic product) per head is still 5.8 per cent below 2007 levels.

"That is the root cause of average earnings being down 13.8 per cent in real terms since then. The pay of the bottom half of the workforce is still being squeezed. Public sector workers' pay is being frozen or increasing less than inflation."

John Salt, director of, said: "Unemployment has now been trending downwards since late 2011. This has led to a steady supply of good news stories for the Government, with job creation becoming the cornerstone of the Conservative Party's election campaign for 2015.

"However, the underlying problems in the job market endure.

"Yes, we are seeing more people in work, but youth unemployment remains high when compared to other developed economies."