The Government was given a pre-Christmas boost on the jobs front when unemployment fell by almost 100,000 and the number of people in work topped 30 million for the first time on record.
The jobless total fell by 99,000 in the quarter to October, the biggest cut in over a decade, to 2.39 million, giving a rate of 7.4%, the lowest for over four years.
The number of people in work was 30.09 million, an increase of 250,000 over the quarter and of almost half a million compared with a year ago.
Private sector employment reached a record high of 24.4 million, and long-term and youth unemployment also fell.
But 1.47 million people were in part-time jobs because they could not find full-time work, the highest total since records began in 1992.
Other data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed a 45,000 fall in those classed as economically inactive, to 8.92 million - a rate of 22% and the lowest since 1991.
The number of people claiming jobseeker's allowance fell by 36,700 in November to 1.27 million, the 13th consecutive monthly cut.
The number of people unemployed for more than a year fell by 33,000 to 866,000, the lowest for over a year, while youth unemployment dipped by 19,000 to 941,000.
The employment rate for over-65s is now 10%, the highest since records began in 1992.
Average earnings increased by 0.9% in the year to October, down by 0.1% on the previous month, giving a weekly average of £476.
Employment Minister Esther McVey said: "It is really encouraging news that the number of people in jobs has increased by a quarter of a million in the last three months, bringing the total number of people in work to a record-breaking 30 million.
"Together with a big fall in unemployment, this shows that the Government's long-term economic plan to get people off benefits and into work is proving successful.
"It's also thanks to British businesses up and down the country who are feeling increasingly confident about taking on workers. This is a great sign that the economy is growing."
In a message on Twitter, Prime Minister David Cameron said: "Great news there is a record 30m people in work. Creating more jobs key to our long-term economic plan for a better future for Britain."
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said: "Thirty million people in work is another landmark on the long road to recovery. It's only been possible because we're sticking to a sound economic plan and because of the hard work of the British people and of British business."
TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "These are undoubtedly positive figures, but we should not forget how far we still have to go to restore pre-crash living standards through better pay and jobs.
"The real test for the Government is whether everyone will share in the recovery, not just a favoured few.
"Nor should we forget today that, as more people find work, nearly 400,000 people across Britain are set to spend their second successive Christmas on the dole and desperate for work.
"There are still hundreds of employment blackspots across Britain, with more than 15,000 long-term dole claimants in Birmingham alone. Ministers cannot ignore these areas just because the picture in other parts of the country is looking rosier."
Shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves said: "Today's fall in unemployment is welcome, but families are facing a cost-of-living crisis and on average working people are now £1,600 a year worse off under this out-of-touch Government.
"Today's figures show prices have now risen much faster than wages for 41 of the 42 months since David Cameron became Prime Minister. Youth unemployment is still unacceptably high at over 900,000 and the number of people in part-time jobs who want to work full-time has risen again, to a record high of 1.5 million."
David Kern, chief economist at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: "These are very strong labour market figures, which back our recent forecast of increased growth in the fourth quarter of this year. Employment is up, unemployment is down, inactivity is down, and, while youth and long-term unemployment remain high, there has been an improvement in these areas.
"The strong growth in private sector employment at a time when public sector jobs are stagnating proves that businesses are up for the challenge, and are doing all they can to drive the recovery. The only sticking point is that earnings growth remains below 1%."
Lee Hopley, chief economist at EEF, the manufacturers' organisation said: "The increase in manufacturing employment in the third quarter is consistent with the upbeat picture we've seen in several surveys and we are on track for a third consecutive year of increased jobs in manufacturing for the first time since 1997/98."
She added: "However, if job creation continues to be a pattern across the industry, more companies will face problems hiring the skilled people they need across a range of occupations."
John Allan, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: "Positive trends in unemployment figures reflect what FSB members tell us. Our quarterly business index finds that small firms are optimistic about staffing levels, with many expecting to increase headcounts over the next three months.
While weak pay growth remains a concern, measures announced by the Chancellor in the Autumn Statement should also further encourage companies to hire young people, nearly a million of whom are still out of work."
Unite union general secretary Len McCluskey said: "Unemployment falling will be welcome relief to many, but the underlying trends point to a growing part-time, low-wage economy where the recovery is passing ordinary people by.
"Behind the headlines are hard-working people struggling to find a decent week's work and make ends meet as the world of work becomes more insecure and inflation continues to outstrip wages.
"Unemployment may be falling, but Cameron and Osborne's cost-of-living crisis is deepening and forcing working people to food banks this Christmas."
Dave Prentis, general secretary of the Unison union, said: "While any small rise in the number of people working is welcome, there are still major problems with the sort of jobs that are on offer and the underlying figures are still stuck in the doldrums.
"Today's figures mask the reality of widespread underemployment, with too many people in low paid, part-time work or on zero-hour contracts with no guaranteed income from week to week."
GMB general secretary union Paul Kenny said: "These figures show that there are 2.4 million people seeking decent paid work upon which they can build a life. It is the responsibility of all political leaders to give a vision of hope for 2014. That means better quality jobs and full employment for 2014."
Neil Carberry, the CBI's director of employment and skills, said: "The stronger economic growth we have seen recently seems to be increasing the speed of job creation. With employment rising in almost all regions, led by full-time jobs and across most sectors, real progress is being made.
"Our own employment survey shows this positive trend looks set to continue, with more than half of firms expecting to create new jobs next year, including more graduate and apprenticeship opportunities."
Graeme Leach, chief economist at the Institute of Directors, said: "The Chancellor can enjoy his Christmas break after a week of rising employment and falling unemployment and inflation. The reduction in unemployment to 7.4% will heighten speculation about tighter monetary policy, but this is likely to be a triumph of hype over reality.
"Inflationary pressures are likely to continue to ease in 2014, due to rising productivity and the strength of the pound."
At Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, Labour leader Ed Miliband welcomed the overall job statisitics, but raised concern over the level of people working part-time because they were unable to get the hours or the pay that they want.
Average wages are down £364 on last year and more than £1,500 compared with at the time of the general election in 2010.
"It is good our economy is creating more jobs, but the problem is that too many of them are part-time or low-paid or insecure," said Mr Miliband.
Mr Cameron retorted that 70% of jobs created since the election were full-time.
The Prime Minister said the figures "do paint an encouraging picture".
"We have talked before about 1 million more people in work under this Government," said Mr Cameron. "It is now 1.2 million more people in work.
"There shouldn't be an ounce of complacency because we have still got work to do to get our country back to work. Everyone back in work means greater stability for them, greater ability to plan for their future, greater help for their families.
"The plan is working. Let's stick at it and get unemployment down even further."