A radical new approach is needed to prevent disabled workers leaving the workforce if the Government is to have any hope of meeting its disability employment target, a report has urged.
The Resolution Foundation said disabled people who have been out of work for more than a year see their odds of returning to employment reduced at twice the rate of non-disabled people.
The think-tank said the current policy focus on disabled people on benefits was "seriously misguided".
Being assessed for disability benefits after leaving employment can take up to a year - six months on statutory sick pay followed by at least three months waiting for an assessment after making an Employment and Support Allowance claim, by which point, the odds of re-entering work have fallen considerably, said the report.
Laura Gardiner, senior policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said: "Helping people with health problems or a disability to enter and remain in work is a major concern in an ageing society, and the key challenge to overcome if we are to achieve the Chancellor's goal of full employment.
"The current focus on supporting people after they have been assessed for benefits is misguided, with help arriving too late and on too small a scale for the millions of people who need it."
Rossanna Trudgian, head of campaigns at the learning disability charity Mencap, commented: "This report offers further evidence that a lack of Government action risks undermining their manifesto commitment of halving the employment gap experienced by disabled people.
"The report states that even a high-performing Work and Health programme would only support 20,000 disabled people into work, meaning the Government risks failing its important commitment to solve the woefully low employment levels of disabled people."
Owen Smith, shadow work and pensions secretary, said: "The Tories are failing disabled people. This report shows they are making no real inroads to helping disabled people access better job opportunities and wages, in a bid to make up for the £24bn losses they have introduced since 2010.
"Labour will call the Tories to account on this, which is why we will be using the next opposition day debate on June 8 to stand up for disabled people and demand the Tories come before Parliament to explain why they are failing to keep their promise to cut the gap in employment opportunities for disabled people."
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: "Getting people who have been off work due to sickness or disability back into employment is a top priority and our work and health Green Paper will be looking at the best ways to do this."