UK unemployment figures fell to 7.1% in the quarter to November while figures for the North-East and Northern Ireland rose slightly.
The number of jobless people plunged by 167,000 in the quarter - the second biggest fall on record - to 2.32 million, the lowest for almost five years.
Unemployment is now within touching distance of the figure which will be used to decide whether interest rates will increase, official data have revealed.
However, the Bank of England's monetary policy committee (MPC) has said it will not lift interest rates above their historically-low level of 0.5% until the unemployment rate drops to 7%.
Analysts had not expected the threshold to be reached until later in the year, although the Bank has stressed a figure of 7% will not automatically trigger an interest rate rise.
The new unemployment rate of 7.1% is down by 0.5% from June-August, and by 0.6% from a year earlier.
The quarterly fall of 167,000 is the biggest since the autumn of 1997 and the second largest since records began in 1971.
FIGURES BY REGION
- North East 134,000 plus 1,000 10.3%
- North West 270,000 minus 24,000 7.9%
- Yorkshire/Humber 235,000 minus 8,000 8.4%
- East Midlands 149,000 minus 28,000 6.4%
- West Midlands 222,000 minus 32,000 8.1%
- East of England 178,000 minus 7,000 5.7%
- London 354,000 minus 18,000 8.1%
- South East 244,000 minus 29,000 5.3%
- South West 187,000 plus 15,000 6.8%
- Wales 108,000 minus 12,000 7.2%
- Scotland 176,000 minus 25,000 6.4%
- Northern Ireland 63,000 plus 1,000 7.3%
The number of people claiming jobseeker's allowance in December fell by 24,000 to 1.25 million, the lowest figure for almost five years.
The so-called claimant count has now fallen for 14 months in a row.
Meanwhile, the number of people in work has reached a record high of just over 30 million, giving an employment rate of 72.1%, an increase of 0.5% over the quarter to November.
An additional 280,000 people were in employment over the latest quarter compared to the three months to August, and up by 450,000 from a year earlier.
There was a fall in the number of people working part-time because they could not find full-time jobs - down by 12,000 to 1.4 million.
Economic inactivity - counting those who are looking after a relative, on long-term sick leave or who have given up looking for work - fell by 22,000 to just under nine million.
Average earnings increased by 0.9% in the year to November, unchanged from the previous month, giving a weekly wage of £475, today's report from the Office for National Statistics showed.
Long-term unemployment has fallen - down by 61,000 to 839,000 among those out of work for over a year.
The number of unemployed 16 to 24-year-olds fell by 39,000 to 920,000.
Employment Minister Esther McVey said: "Creating jobs and getting people into employment are central to our economic plan to build a stronger, more competitive economy, so it is very encouraging news that we've seen a record-breaking rise in employment over the last three months - the largest ever.
"With the highest quarterly fall in unemployment since 1997, it's clear that the Government's long-term economic plan to get people off benefits and into work so they can secure their future is proving successful."
Prime Minister David Cameron said on Twitter: "The biggest quarterly increase in employment on record. More jobs means more security, peace of mind and opportunity for the British people."
Wales's First Minister Carwyn Jones said: "Today's figures are particularly positive for Wales, with employment levels at an historic high and economic inactivity at a record low.
"Wales is outperforming the UK as a whole in crucial areas such as youth employment, where unemployment amongst the 16-17-year-old and 18-24-year-old groups is falling faster in Wales than across other parts of the UK."
TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "It's encouraging to see another big fall in unemployment, particularly amongst young people who until now haven't benefited from rising job levels.
"But while headline unemployment is within a whisker of the Bank's forward guidance threshold, an early interest rate rise would clobber mortgage-holders and businesses - jeopardising our economic recovery.
"Patchy levels of jobs growth in parts of the North and the continuing squeeze on living standards should make the Bank of England think twice before considering a rate rise."
Shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves said: "Today's fall in overall unemployment is welcome. The Government should use this opportunity to tackle the unacceptably high levels of long-term unemployment and youth unemployment. More than 900,000 young people are unemployed and over 250,000 young people are long-term unemployed.
"These figures also show prices are still rising more than twice as fast as wages which means working people are over £1,600 a year worse off on average under this out-of-touch Government."
Dr John Philpott, director of The Jobs Economist, said: "It's now inevitable that unemployment will soon fall below the Bank of England's forward guidance rate of 7%.
"However, the weakness of pay growth suggests there is still a considerable amount of slack in the labour market which for the time being remains an inflation free zone. Better news on jobs is no reason for an early rise in UK interest rates."
John Allan, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: "Another set of positive unemployment figures reflect what our members tell us about their recruitment intentions.
"While weak pay growth remains a concern, we are hopefully turning a corner, with seven in 10 small firms intending to increase staff pay in the next 12 months.
"Despite improvements in the labour market, we would like to see a prolonged period of business confidence before the Bank of England's forward guidance comes into effect and increases interest rates."