Unemployment has continued to fall and a record number of women are in work, new figures have revealed.
The jobless total was 2.34 million in the final quarter of last year, down by 125,000, giving a rate of 7.2%.
In Yorkshire, the jobless tally stands at 240,000 or 8.6%, 8,000 down on the previous quarter.
The number of people claiming jobseeker’s allowance dipped to 1.22 million in January, down by 27,000 - the 15th consecutive monthly fall.
More women are in work than at any time since records began in 1971, at just over 14 million, today’s data from the Office for National Statistics showed.
But 1.4 million people are in part-time jobs because they cannot find full-time work, a fall of 29,000 over the latest quarter but 46,000 higher than a year ago.
Youth and long-term unemployment have both fallen, but there has been little change in the number of people classed as economically inactive, which has remained just under nine million.
The total includes people on long-term sick leave, students, those looking after a sick relative or those who have given up looking for a job.
Employment now stands at more than 30 million, a rate of 72.1%, which is 0.6% higher than a year ago.
The unemployment rate will remain a key focus, but is no longer linked to the Bank of England’s pledge to keep interest rates at record lows after governor Mark Carney unveiled a new forward guidance policy last week.
The Bank had pledged not to consider a rate rise until unemployment fell to 7%, but with that target set to be reached much earlier than expected, the guidance has been replaced.
Average earnings increased by 1.1% in the year to December, 0.2 percentage points up on the previous month, giving average weekly earnings of £478.
The number of people out of work for longer than a year has fallen by 45,000 to 845,000, while 451,000 have been unemployed for over two years, down by 7,000.
There were 917,000 unemployed 16 to 24-year-olds in the latest quarter, down by 48,000 on the previous three months.
Job vacancies were up by 28,000 to 580,000, the highest since 2008.
Employment Minister Esther McVey said: “With employment continuing to increase, it’s clear that the Government’s long-term plan to build a stronger, more secure economy is helping businesses create jobs and get people into work.
“Record numbers of women are in work and youth unemployment continues to fall, which means more people have the security of a regular wage and can plan for their future.”
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said: “This recovery wouldn’t be happening without the Liberal Democrats in Government.
“Quarter by quarter, job by job, we are rebuilding Britain’s economy. Every job created is a family helped and a boost to our economic growth.
“This, combined with the encouraging news on inflation earlier this week, is further convincing evidence that our long-term economic plan is working.
“Rebuilding the economy, boosting employment, securing growth and controlling inflation are the only ways to secure living standards for the future.”
Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted: “It’s good to see another fall in unemployment. Our Long Term Economic Plan means more people with the security of a wage and a chance in life.”
But Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said: “Sadly, today’s fall in the total number of unemployed masks the scourge of under-employment, which is growing at an alarming rate across the country.
“Under-employment is now a bitter reality for millions of struggling families across the UK.
“Too many people are stuck in minimum-wage jobs, on zero-hours contracts and part-time work when they are desperate to go full-time.
“Desperate because they need regular, secure employment to feed their families without having to resort to food banks, pay their bills without falling into the grip of payday lenders and decent pay to rebuild consumer confidence and grow the economy.
“Growing the economy means giving more workers across the UK a boost to their earnings.”
Nick Palmer, senior labour market statistician at the Office for National Statistics, said: “The latest unemployment rate is 7.2%, down 0.4 on the previous quarter. This is a comparison between the July-September and October-December three-month periods.
“It is higher than last month’s published figure of 7.1% for September-November. However, it is not directly comparable with the figure published this month, as the Labour Force Survey is not designed to measure monthly changes.
“The main conclusion that should be drawn from these latest figures is that the rate at which unemployment has been falling is likely to have slowed down.”
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “These are encouraging figures for the millions of people desperate for work. It is good news that unemployment levels continue to fall, and that young people are finally beginning to share in the improving jobs market.
“But people already in work have less to cheer about, with prices still rising twice as fast as wages. While we have a record proportion of women in employment, the widening gender pay gap means many women are not getting the fair pay they deserve.
“Jobless levels are falling but there’s a long way to go before we see the rates of pay and employment enjoyed before the recession.”
Shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves said: “While today’s fall in overall unemployment is welcome, the Government must not be complacent. More than 900,000 young people are still unemployed and over 250,000 young people have been unemployed for over a year.
“Today’s figures also show working people facing a cost-of-living crisis are over £1,600 a year worse off since David Cameron’s became Prime Minister.
“The Government should introduce Labour’s compulsory jobs guarantee to get people back to work now.”