Work and pensions secretary John Hutton has written to 100 MPs whose constituencies include the highest numbers of incapacity benefit claimants, saying the system perpetuates hardship.
A government Green Paper is due later this month to kickstart discussions on proposals to reform the benefit, which is claimed by 2.7 million people and costs the exchequer £12bn a year. The government is seeking to cut the number of claimants by one million.
Hutton points out in his letter that one-third of the constituencies concerned contain the worst pockets of deprivation in the UK.
Proposals are likely to include means testing, setting a time limit on eligibility or paying part of the benefit in vouchers that can be used to purchase training. There are also plans for more rigorous assessments of claimants’ ability to work.
However, people with the worst conditions could be paid a new allowance worth more than current benefits.
Interviewed on Radio 4’s Today programme Hutton denied a suggestion that moving people off incapacity benefit would lead to a rise in unemployment figures as claimants shifted from one benefit to another.