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Gordon Brown provoked fury yesterday by telling the unemployed to get new jobs “lagging lofts”.

His disregard for the misery caused by the economic crisis came as experts predicted the jobless total could hit three million.

Tory Work and Pensions spokesman Chris Grayling said: “If training people to lag roofs is the best suggestion he can make, then it doesn’t say much for the challenges we face as a nation.”

Whitehall figures yesterday showed the number of people out of work soared by 164,000 to 1.79million in the three months to August – the biggest rise in 17 years.

Experts feared the increase was accelerating amid the economic downturn, with some predicting the three million jobless total would be reached by 2010.

The grim news was being seen as a wake-up call to the PM last night as he basked in the adulation of European leaders for his financial rescue measures to bail-out beleaguered banks.

Speaking at an EU summit in Brussels, Mr Brown claimed a Government energy-saving scheme to insulate houses could be a major source of job opportunities.

“We are training large numbers of additional people to do that work in insulation and that will become one of the unemployment programmes that will grow over the next period of time,” he said.

“We will do whatever we can to ensure people can stay in jobs, and that those who lose their jobs can get new skills for the next job and we will do whatever we can by creating new opportunities for work over the next few months.”

Mr Grayling said: “For all the hype surrounding Gordon Brown in the past few days, these comments show just how out of touch he is with what is going on in the real economy.

“He promised that he had ended ‘boom and bust’ but the unemployment figures show what an absurd claim that was. Now as people are paying the price for that failure, he has nothing substantial to offer them.”

Yesterday’s sharp rise in unemployment was the biggest increase since 1991, raising the jobless rate by 0.5 per cent to 5.7 per cent of the total workforce.

The news was compounded by an announcement of 800 job losses at US-owned computer chip firm Freescale Semiconductor in East Kilbride, near Glasgow.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “This is extremely bad news and these figures do not even show the effects of the bank crash.”

Vicky Redwood, UK economist at Capital Economics, said: “Worse is to come. By the end of 2010 we expect unemployment to hit three million.”

Separate figures released in Parliament yesterday showed that while the number of British-born workers in jobs was falling, the employment of immigrants has rocketed over the past two years.

Since 2006 the number of Britons in work fell by 365,000 while 865,000 more newcomers from overseas have got jobs.

The Office of National Statistics revealed the number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance increased by 31,800 in September to 939,900, the eighth consecutive monthly rise and the highest figure for almost two years. continues here

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