“The very survival of the welfare state depends on more people [being] in work,” employment minister Margaret Hodge told European health experts.
Addressing the Inactivity and Ill-health conference in Cardiff on Wednesday, Hodge said: “Europe shares common challenges and goals – an ageing population and an increasingly global economy.
“Economic inactivity, specifically due to ill health, is fast becoming the big issue of the 21st century,” she said.
The conference is part of the UK Presidency’s focus on what needs to be done between 2005 and 2010 to deliver full employment and greater social cohesion.
It aims to start a debate about practical steps that can be taken to break the dependency cycle experienced by people living on benefits.
Hodge added: “Welfare is changing. Through new anti-discrimination laws, proactive jobs advice and more rehabilitation support we are extending the right to work to those traditionally left out.”