The Prime Minister declared the Government was "getting the country back to work" as employment reached a record high after further falls in the jobless total, fuelled by more self-employment.

More than 30.4 million people are now in work - the highest since records began in 1971 - with self-employment climbing to a new high of 4.5 million.

David Cameron highlighted the figures during Prime Minister's Questions in the Commons, saying: "We are getting the country back to work."

Unemployment has fallen by 133,000 to 2.2 million, the lowest for five years, giving a jobless rate of 6.8%, leading business groups and government ministers to praise the pace of the economic recovery.

Minister for employment Esther McVey said: "As the recovery takes hold, more people are able to get a job or set up their own business and become the employers of tomorrow."

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: "We are starting to see the British economy firing on all cylinders and this means more people are in work today than ever before.

"The coalition Government is not just focused on balancing the books, but also on creating more jobs and growth outside of London and building a fairer society for this generation and the next."

David Kern, chief economist at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: "The figures continue to demonstrate the flexibility and resilience of the jobs market, which is a source of strength for the economy.

"Although there are still some concerns, with youth and long-term unemployment particularly high, the recovery is clearly moving ahead."

Labour and union leaders were more cautious about the state of the jobs market.

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "It's encouraging to see more people in work, though many of Britain's newly employed workforce are actually working for themselves.

"Ministers shouldn't kid themselves that we are becoming a nation of budding entrepreneurs though.

"You are far more likely to be a self-employed hairdresser, care home worker or eBay seller, than to run your own business and take on staff."

Shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves said: "While this fall in overall unemployment is welcome, today's figures show that young people and the long-term unemployed are being left behind.

"Under David Cameron, over 850,000 young people are unemployed and there are still over 100,000 more people out of work for two years or more than in 2010."

The number of people working for themselves jumped by 183,000 in the quarter to March, compared with a rise of 375,000 over the past year.

Other data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that jobseeker's allowance claimants fell by 25,100 in April to 1.12 million, the 18th consecutive monthly reduction.

Meanwhile, average earnings increased by 1.7% in the year to March, slightly ahead of the latest CPI inflation rate of 1.6% - the first time this has happened for four years.

The number of people out of work for over a year was down by 32,000 to 813,000, with unemployment among 16 to 24-year-olds falling by 48,000 to 868,000, the lowest figure for five years.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: "The myth that those taking up self-employment are all budding Richard Bransons needs to be exposed.

"Many people are being forced to take up self-employment as the permanent, full-time jobs they are qualified to do are simply not there."