Going out to work cures stress and depression much more effectively than watching daytime TV at home, says Work and Pensions Secretary David Blunkett.
Mr Blunkett's plans are not popular with some Labour MPs
He set out his "eight principles of welfare reform", calling the current disability benefits system "crackers".
Some Labour MPs are unhappy at his plans to get many of the 2.7m people on incapacity benefit back into work.
But, he told BBC Radio: "If people... re-associate with the world of work, suddenly they come alive again."
"That will overcome depression and stress a lot more than people sitting at home watching daytime television."
'Liberation from dependence'
But the government's new, smaller majority could mean any suggestion that people are being forced back into work risks a defeat in the House of Commons.
BLUNKETT'S REFORM PRINCIPLES:
Help people to help themselves by a "ladder to self-reliance", not just a safety net in time of need
See work as the best route out of welfare
Enable people to make informed choices themselves
Balance rights with responsibilities, while recognising the need for support and care where appropriate
Promote "solidarity between generations", and the importance of using government resources to help people cope with rapid economic and social change
Ensure the role of the state is "active, liberating and enabling"
Address the root causes of poverty and overcome "intergenerational disadvantage and exclusion"
Invest in the potential of everyone, and flexibility of support in and out of work
Mr Blunkett said the range of disability payments had to be simplified.
"The system is crackers," he said, also calling the housing benefit system a "nightmare".
There were four times the number of people claiming incapacity benefit than were on invalidity benefit 30 years ago, said Mr Blunkett.
"Health has got better, medical science is improving by the day, technology has changed the nature of work so that people can work part-time," he said.
"We have a situation where we can offer people liberation from dependence in a way that was never possible before."
He pledged "a whole range of medical, social, therapeutic interventions to help people get off benefit and back into work".
He insisted ministers were not saying: "We will give you benefits but it is entirely up to you to get on your bike and do this."
Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt is due to unveil an occupational health programme later this year.
But shadow work and pensions secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind described the proposals as "vague and superficial".
"Issuing nothing but a 'statement of principles' seems a rather belated course of action after eight years in office," he said.
"This is bad news for all those people trapped on benefits who are desperate to get back into work."
Liberal Democrat spokesman David Laws accused Tony Blair of "meddling" in the reforms.
"The prime minister seems more concerned about making short term savings in the benefits bill rather than the longer term savings from helping people into sustained employment," said Mr Laws.
Mr Blunkett insisted the plans were "a radical review for a very different century".
The voluntary organisation Arthritis Care said 19% of those on incapacity benefit suffered from muscular-skeletal conditions like arthritis.
It welcomed better help for people to find work but warned the impact of arthritis varied from day-to-day and flexible working hours could be important.
It was imperative people with arthritis did not fall foul of government targets aimed at removing them from incapacity benefit, the group said.
Earlier Mr Blunkett side-stepped questions about his private life and a TV satire based on it set for broadcast on Monday night.
"I'm getting on with the job," he said.