Labour claims families struggling to cope with disability are main beneficiaries of £20,000-plus payouts.
Ministers have defended the benefits system following the publication of figures today showing that 140,000 families are receiving more in benefits than the average take-home salary.
Official figures show 140,000 households are receiving benefits worth a total of more than £20,000 every year.
The Tories, who obtained the figures by tabling parliamentary questions, said the statistics were "astonishing".
They compared the figures, which apply to household benefit payments, with the average salary which is just over £25,000 before tax but just over £19,000 after deductions.
The shadow work and pensions secretary, Chris Grayling, said: "It is hardly surprising that so many people live a life on benefits when in some cases it is possible to be paid as much money as someone in work on a typical average income."
But the employment minister, Tony McNulty, insisted the 140,000 represented just 1% of households with at least one person of working age.
"The benefits being received by these households will, in the majority of cases, include disability-related benefits and premiums," he added.
A department for work and pensions spokesman said: "These families are a tiny minority and, in almost all cases, the money includes extra support for the most severely disabled.
"Our welfare reforms are about ensuring almost everyone will have to do something for their benefits, but we are not going to apologise for supporting those disabled people who need help most."
About 2.7 million people are on incapacity benefit, but the government accepts that a large proportion of those should be working.
The work and pensions secretary, James Purnell, , announced radical plans this month to get millions off benefits and into work, including reforming incapacity benefit and forcing lone parents to seek employment.
A spokesman for Purnell accused Grayling of "posturing" over welfare.
"The Tories are happy for drug addicts to get benefits with no questions asked and have opposed our plans to ask workless parents to take active steps to prepare for work in return for financial support, but now seem to be saying they don't think families struggling to cope with a disability should get real help," he said.
"It's time Chris Grayling got serious on welfare reform and, instead of posturing, backed our proposals to ask more from those who receive benefits."
Story from www.guardian.co.uk, 29th December 2008
By Andrew Sparrow