Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has been accused of dehumanising disabled people and launching an “assault on the poor” by announcing tougher rules on benefits.

Mr Hunt said there is a need to rethink how the welfare system works as he claimed around 100,000 people are “leaving the labour market every year for a life on benefits”.

Mr Hunt outlined plans to look again at the benefit sanctions regime to make it harder for people to claim welfare while refusing to “look seriously” for a job, alongside a pledge to increase the national minimum wage to at least £11 an hour for workers aged 23 and over from April.

But his remarks at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester were criticised by charities, who warned the approach does little to help people with disabilities who are struggling to make ends meet.

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People risk having their benefits stopped or reduced – known as a sanction – if they do not follow certain rules.

Jackie O’Sullivan, acting chief executive of learning disability charity Mencap, said: “We are deeply concerned the Chancellor is looking at the issues of disability benefits the wrong way and penalising disabled people through sanctions rather than tackling the barriers they face in employment.

“Our new research found 86% of people with a learning disability want paid work but face significant barriers getting a job – the biggest obstacle being that the benefit system is preventing people from moving into work.

“As a result, only 26% of people with a learning disability are in work.”

She added: “Today’s announcement by the Chancellor will only compound the problem and move people with a learning disability further from the labour market.

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“If the Government wants to move people into work, they need to expand funding for supported employment programmes and enable people with a learning disability who can work to achieve their aspirations.”

Anastasia Berry, Disability Benefits Consortium policy co-chair and MS Society policy manager, said: “This announcement on a ‘benefits crackdown’ suggests many disabled people, including those with MS, are choosing a life on benefits.

“The divisive and stigmatising language dehumanises those who are already struggling to make ends meet.

“Sanctioning won’t get more disabled people into well paid, stable employment. These are deeply cynical proposals and will only punish people already struggling to afford essentials in a cost-of-living crisis.

“This is pushing them further into poverty and forcing them to seek low paid and insecure work – which many are unable to do.”

Oxfam’s domestic poverty lead Silvia Galandini said: “Our social security safety net already has too many holes. Additional sanctions will do little to reduce the issues many people face when trying to access work and even less to lift people out of poverty and tackle inequality.”

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Alfie Stirling, chief economist at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “The Chancellor spoke today about the social contract – and we share his view that at the most basic level this starts with access to good quality jobs and a safety net that no one can fall below.

“But work is too insecure, and too poorly paid, for too many people in this country. And with a social security system that gives you at least £35 less per week than it costs to afford basic essentials like food, the UK simply does not have a safety net worthy of the name.”

He added: “It’s easy to ramp up the rhetoric about getting people back to work but the Chancellor’s words don’t match up with reality.

“The idea that there are hundreds of thousands of people choosing to get by on benefits that don’t even allow them to afford all the essentials reveals how out of touch this Government is with the hardship afflicting families around the country.”