Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed the number of people unemployed for more than a year increased by 27,000 to 887,000 – the highest total since 1996.
In the three months to March, a third of all unemployed people had been out of work for more than a year. The number of people unemployed for more than two years rose by 5,000 to 428,000.
The disappointing figures come as the government’s statistical agency announced a small drop in unemployment, thanks mainly to an increase in the number of people working part time.
The jobless total was 2.6million in the quarter to March, the lowest since last summer, while the number of people claiming jobseeker’s allowance last month was down by 13,700 to 1.59million.
However, although the number of people in work increased by 105,000 to almost 30million, this was entirely due to a rise in part-time workers.
Almost eight million people are now in a part-time job, the highest since records began in 1992, while those working part-time because they cannot find full-time work increased by 73,000 to a record high of 1.4 million.
ONS figures also showed foreign-born workers have taken up more jobs in the UK than have been lost by British workers over the past year.