Disability benefits should go to “really disabled people” not those “taking pills at home, who suffer from anxiety”, a key Theresa May aide says.
No 10 policy unit head George Freeman said personal independence payments (PIP) reforms were needed to roll back the “bizarre” decisions of tribunals.
Ministers say the changes will save £3.7bn but leave a “strong safety net”.
But disability charity Scope criticised Mr Freeman’s “crude” distinction between physical and mental health.
And Labour said the comments were “an insult to disabled people”.
Responding to criticism online to his interview on BBC 5 live’s Pienaar’s Politics, Mr Freeman later tweeted that he had suffered from anxiety and depression in childhood, adding: “I don’t need any lectures on the damage anxiety does.”
The government is proposing changes to PIPs, which replaced the Disability Living Allowance (DLA), after two tribunal rulings at the end of 2016 which it said would have added £3.7bn to the benefits bill by 2023.
The benefit is intended to help people cope with the extra costs of living with ill health or disability and are made according to the points a person scores in an assessment of their needs.
In his BBC interview Mr Freeman said: “These tweaks are actually about rolling back some bizarre decisions by tribunals that now mean benefits are being given to people who are taking pills at home, who suffer from anxiety,” he said.
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The Conservative MP for Mid Norfolk added that he and the prime minister “totally” understood anxiety. “We’ve set out in the mental health strategy how seriously we take it,” he added.