By Maximilian Clarke

The number of dole claimants who have been out of work for at least a year has increased by 35,000 since last year, with over a quarter of a million people set to spend their second successive Christmas on the dole, according to a new Trades Union Congress (TUC) analysis of official statistics published today (Wednesday).

The number of long-term dole claimants over the Christmas period has more than doubled from 122,000 in 2007 to 279,000 today. Last Christmas, 243,000 people had been out of work for at least a year.

Scotland (+28 per cent) and London (+24 per cent) have had the sharpest increase in long-term dole claimants since last year. Eight of the ten local authorities with the fastest increase in long-term claimants are in Scotland.

Hounslow has experienced the sharpest increase in the UK, with the number of people in the London borough set to spend another Christmas on the dole more than doubling to over 500.

The TUC analysis shows that rising long-term unemployment is a problem throughout the country. In the last Christmas before the recession, 29 local authorities had at least 1,000 people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) for at least a year. This figure rose to 88 local authorities last year and now 105 local authorities have over 1,000 long-term dole claimants, including 14 who have at least 3,000 people who been claiming JSA for at least a year.

The number of people spending their third successive Christmas on the dole has also increased by a third on last year, with 75,000 people currently on JSA for at least two years.

The TUC is particularly concerned about rising long-term unemployment as it can permanently scar people's career prospects and negatively affect their health. It believes that the government should prioritise providing tailored and well-funded support to help people back into training and work, rather than simply branding them as scroungers.

With unemployment rising and wages having fallen in real terms throughout the year, it's not just those surviving on unemployment benefit who are set to face a tough Christmas this year, says the TUC. Millions of working families surviving on low wages are also set for a tough time.

The TUC is calling on employers to do their bit to end the poverty pay that contributes to over two million children in working households living in poverty, and for the government to prioritise tackling the UK's jobs crisis.

Falling living standards has been the main cause of the flatlining of economic growth this year, says the TUC, and the government's austerity measures are playing a key part in tightening this squeeze.

Wage-led growth, fuelled by decent pay rises and new high quality jobs, is the only way to achieve a sustainable economic recovery and the government must make this its top priority in the new year, says the TUC.

“As people gear up for the festive break, there won't be much cheer for the quarter of a million people who are spending their second successive Christmas on the dole,” said TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber.

“The shocking rise in long-term unemployment is not just a personal tragedy for the families and friends of those unable to find jobs, it can affect entire communities and carries a huge economic cost.

“What's most concerning is that as the dole queues mount, the government's response has been to brand many of those struggling for work as scroungers.

“The TUC is calling on ministers to make a fresh start in 2012 and focus on tackling our mounting jobs crisis. The UK - one of the richest countries on the world - must not have the shame of millions of its own citizens facing poverty at Christmas with little or no pay.”