David Cameron has pledged to do away with Britain’s “insidious” benefit culture as he unveiled the most radical shake-up of welfare for a generation.
The prime minister said coalition reforms would simplify the system, strip benefits from people who repeatedly turn down job offers, and ensure individuals are only classified as disabled if they really cannot work.
He admitted that the changes would be “painful”, but drastic action was necessary because the current provision was not “working”.
“Never again will work be the wrong financial choice. Never again will we waste opportunity,” he said.
“We’re finally going to make work pay - especially for the poorest people in society.”
However, unions accused the government of punishing people who could not find jobs, while charities warned that society’s most vulnerable would be hardest hit.
Questions were also raised about claims that nobody would be worse off “in cash terms” due to the reforms.
The respected Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has previously estimated that 1.4m working-age families will lose out - although the research ignored transitional arrangements.
The proposals include replacing nearly all existing benefits with a universal credit - designed to ensure people are always better off when they are employed, and close the loophole where some couples receive more living apart.
Those who refuse to take up job offers face losing their handouts for up to three years, and there will be tougher sanctions for fraud.
Mr Cameron also announced moves to tackle the UK’s “sicknote culture”, pointing out that 300,000 people leave work and claim sickness benefits every year.
However plans to cut housing benefit by 10% for anyone out of work for more than a year have been ditched, work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith revealed.
The cut - affecting those claiming jobseeker’s allowance - was proposed in chancellor George Osborne’s emergency budget last June as a means to create incentives for the long-term unemployed to take work.
But Mr Duncan Smith has revealed it does not feature in the government’s Welfare Reform Bill, which sets out plans for a shake-up of the entire benefit system.