The Government was last night urged to significantly increase investment in job-creation programmes after the number of people claiming unemployment benefit surged to the worst level since 2003 after the highest monthly increase in 15 years.
Ministers defended their employment record even though the so-called claimant count jumped by 14,600 last month to 919,700, the biggest monthly rise since the end of 1992.
British Airways added to the gloom by announcing plans to axe its 17-strong chain of high street travel shops in a move likely to affect about 300 jobs, while another 100 posts are under threat because of the likely closure of the airline's call centre in Belfast.
A further 500 jobs were threatened after Lloyds TSB detailed plans to close back office processing operations at five UK locations.
The total number of people out of work in the UK rose by 37,000 in the three months to January to 1.53 million, caused entirely by an increase in the number of jobless women, according to the Office For National Statistics.
The figure, which includes people who are out of work but not receiving benefit, has increased by 109,000 over the past year.
West Midlands unemployment was 140,000, up 14,000, 5.3 per cent of the workforce. The East Midlands equivalent was 102,000, 7,000 ahead, 4.6 per cent.
Seasonally adjusted claim-ant count unemployment in the West Midlands was 103,900, up 1,900, 3.8 per cent of the work-force. The unadjusted equivalent was 108,900, up 2,900, four per cent of the workforce.
Nationally, employment fell by 7,000 in the latest quarter to 28.8 million.
The number of people classed as economically inactive rose by 65,000 over the three months to January to 7.96 million - the highest figure since comparable records began in 1971.
The total includes people who have taken early retire-ment or given up looking for a job, students, those looking after a family or workers who are off sick.
Jobs continued to be lost in manufacturing firms, down by 111,000 in the latest three months compared with a year ago to 3.08 million, the lowest since records began in 1978.
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: "These are worrying figures. Employ-ment is down, whilst unemployment, economic inactivity and involuntary part-time work are all up.
"Manufacturing lost 15,000 jobs between December and January, and 117,000 jobs over 2005.
"The Bank of England must accept the case for a cut in interest rates, and the Govern-ment should increase investment in programmes that help the unemployed back get back into work."
Employment Minister Margaret Hodge said: "The fundam entals remain strong. Employment is up on the year, vacancies are up again this quarter and redundancies are at historically low levels.
"However, claimant unemployment is up. To some extent this is offset by falls in numbers claiming other benefits. But we must do more to tackle worklessness and break the cycle of poverty and benefit dependency."
Dr John Philpott, chief economist at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said: "A fall in employment, a further rise in unemployment and an increase in the number of economically-inactive people who want to work, points to an easing in demand for labour.
"It appears that employers have been making greater use of self-employed and temporary staff rather than permanent employees in recent months, which may suggest considerable uncertainty about economic prospects.
"Although the maledominated manufacturing sector continues to shed jobs, women have been the main casualties of the recent labour market slowdown.
A total of 566 posts are affected by the Lloyds TSB announcement. ..SUPL: