Free trips to museums and art galleries are to be used to "build the confidence" of people on long-term sick leave and help get them back to work.

The new Government-funded scheme is being rolled out in Bradford in a bid to cut the high level of claimants which number about 25,000.

People on incapacity benefit, which includes disabled people, will also receive training to help them get back to work.

For the past five years Bradford Council has run an employment and training service for disabled people and those on long-term sick called Work-Able.

It helps between 60 and 100 people a year get jobs sometimes on a different career path to before.

The new project called Life Link is to provide a first step especially for those claiming incapacity benefit who want to improve their life but are unsure about their future.

Dave Smith, Work-Able manager, said: "We have 15 years' experience of helping ill and disabled people to find work, however many people are not at the stage where work is an option.

"Life Link is designed with them in mind and will help them to overcome barriers and plan their future.

"Life Link will offer people skills for work such as literacy, numeracy and IT skills but initially it will concentrate on offering support to help people to build up their confidence and self esteem.

"This could involve visits to museums and art galleries just to help them get out of the house and to build up the confidence to socialise and boost their self esteem."

The new scheme is funded by the Government through Jobcentre Plus and the European Social Fund.

Simon Wilkinson, of the Department for Work and Pensions, said: "In addition to the financial support Jobcentre Plus provides to people receiving incapacity benefit we also offer advice and practical help to people enabling them to explore ways in which they can achieve independence through work.

"Our partnership with Work-Able aims to enhance that service by reaching out to communities where we can make a real difference."

Mike Cartwright, of Bradford Chamber of Commerce, said: "Schemes that can both help people back into work and give employers more recruitment options are to be welcomed.

"For those away from work for a long time retraining and adjusting to employment can be difficult but there already appears to be plenty of support programmes out there so we would urge careful targeting and appropriate use of this apparently new and public money."

The move follows a report which last week revealed the Council is set to get tough on the growing number of its staff on long term sick leave.

A total of 115,067 working days were lost because of employees' long term absences from April to December last year.

A review suggests the Council needs to take "measured risks" which could include dismissal when dealing with employees who have been off work for more than 20 days.

People on incapacity benefit who live in Bradford Moor, Bowling and Little Horton can join Life Link. To find out more or to enrol for the first 13-week course which starts on June 26, call (01274) 434499.