A Spanish flag flutters near the dome of the Bank of Spain in central Madrid
The number of people in Spain registered as unemployed hit 4.42 million at the end of December, according to the labour ministry.

The number of people out of work in Spain has reached a record high of 4.42 million.

The number registered as unemployed hit the new record at the end of December and represents nearly a quarter of the working population, according to figures from the labour ministry.

It blamed the country's weakening economy for the increase.

"The figures for the number of registered unemployed for the month of December confirm the deterioration of the economic situation during the second half of the year," it said.

It is the fifth consecutive month of an increase in the rate of unemployment and the labour ministry said the latest rise of 0.04 percent was likely to push Spain's unemployment rate above 22 percent, according to a report in the Guardian.

The new figures mark the country's highest levels of unemployment since the eurozone crisis began and reflect the highest numbers since data began to be collected in 1996.

The unemployment figures were released following an announcement that the Spanish deficit for 2011 could top eight percent of GDP, significantly higher than the official government target of six percent.

"The figures for the number of registered unemployed for the month of December confirm the deterioration of the economic situation during the second half of the year," said Luis de Guindos, Spain's finance minister.

The Spanish government unveiled €8.9 billion (£7.42 billion) in spending cuts and €6 billion of tax rises designed to cut the deficit, but the plan is unlikely to improve the country's unemployment crisis.