The government was braced for more bad news on the jobs front today with new unemployment figures expected to show another increase, sparking fresh calls for action.
Analysts predicted that the number of people out of work will increase by over 80,000 when the latest data is published by the Office for National Statistics.
The jobless total increased to 2.68 million last month, including over a million 16 to 24-year-olds, the worst youth total since records began in 1992.
The TUC has calculated that unemployment could be as high as 6.3 million in the UK if a different counting measure was used, highlighting the "true scale" of joblessness.
The higher figure was revealed using an American measure, which includes people in part-time jobs because they cannot find full-time work, as well as recent redundancies, said the union organisation.
Meanwhile, a study by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development showed that job prospects are set to worsen in the coming months as firms make workers redundant.
A survey of 1,000 employers also revealed a further widening of a North-South divide in the jobs market.
Howard Archer, chief UK and European economist at IHS Global Insight forecast that unemployment increased by around 85,000 in the three months to December to reach a 17-year high of 2.7 million.
Today's data is also likely to show that employment rose by around 60,000 in the final quarter of 2011 to 29.1 million, inflated by increased part-time jobs, said Mr Archer, adding that the number of people claiming jobseeker's allowance is forecast to have risen by 5,000 in January, which would be an 11th successive monthly increase.
This would take the number of claimant count unemployed up to a 24-month high of 1.6 million in January from a 24-month low of 1.4 million in February 2011, he said.
Members of the Right to Work campaign group will stage a protest outside Department for Work and Pensions offices in Whitehall today to mark the release of the latest unemployment figures.