The same figures also show that wages continue to struggle, with the average weekly earnings falling in real terms by 0.3%, both including and excluding bonuses compared with a year earlier.
Debbie Abrahams MP, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said the figures were “further evidence of the Tories’ economic failure”, and said a future Labour Government would reform Universal Credit, introduce a £10 an hour “Real Living Wage” and scrap the 1% freeze on public sector pay
She said: “The rise in unemployment is further evidence of the Tories’ economic failure, which has resulted in regional inequalities, wages failing to keep up with prices and millions of workers trapped in low paid, insecure work.
“Eight million people in working households live in poverty and the number of children in poverty is set to soar to a record 5.2 million over the next five years.
“Labour will reform the Government’s failing Universal Credit programme, introduce a £10 an hour Real Living Wage and scrap the public sector pay cap to build a high wage, high skill economy for the many, not the few.”
However, the statistics also show that the number of people in employment increased by 88,000 over the same period, with the total number of people deemed to be in work rising to 32.15 million.
There were 8.77 million working age adults who were economically inactive (not working and not seeking or available to work), down 109,000 on the previous quarter and 95,000 fewer than for a year earlier. This includes people claiming out-of-work sickness and disability benefits and early retirees.
Doug Monro, co-founder of Adzuna, a search engine for job ads, said: “The unemployment rate rising to 4.4% at the end of 2017 is hopefully a temporary blip, but had been foreshadowed by number of vacancies on our site flatlining somewhat.
“While the number of new roles available has stagnated, wages are showing signs of recovery, but the tangible benefits are taking time to filter down into peoples’ pockets. While average advertised salaries in London are flying the flag for the jobs market and showings signs of positive growth momentum at their highest level since May 2016, workers already in employment aren’t feeling flush just yet.
“However, as the countdown to Brexit continues, the future of the jobs market hangs in the balance. This calls for a vote of confidence in the market through transparent negotiations that maintain an open relationship and financial access to the EU, especially as the total number of advertised vacancies begins to lose momentum.
“There has undoubtedly been a shift in employment patterns in the labour market. With the noise surrounding university fees rising, home ownership becoming increasingly more expensive and arguably unlikely – particularly for generation rent – uncertainty has begun to spread and confidence among jobseekers and employees could soon dwindle.
“Workers will be hoping the worst of the pay squeeze is over, with less pressure placed on the resilience of the UK jobs market.”
Minister for Employment Alok Sharma said: “High employment rates are a reliable feature of today’s economy – and this is an incredible achievement. It is equally important that across society everyone has the opportunity to get a good job and get on in life.
“Today’s figures show that this government is building a fairer economy that supports people from all backgrounds to get into work. We are closing the BAME and gender employment gaps, and people across the country are accessing new opportunities.”