Taoiseach Enda Kenny has pledged to break the cycle of social welfare traps with significant reform of the system.
With the Government yet to sign off on the detail of 2.5 billion euro worth of tax hikes and spending cuts in Tuesday's budget, he insisted work must pay.
"The fact is that without significant reform of the social welfare system, Ireland could face into a long and unprecedented period of long unemployment," Mr Kenny said.
"So changing that system is not only desirable, it is inevitable and essential."
In an opening address to his Fine Gael National Conference, the Taoiseach said the failure of previous governments to overhaul the welfare system had condemned generations of families to the sidelines and to "the indignity of having to queue for years at the hatch".
In what appeared a warning to Social Protection Minister Joan Burton ahead of the budget, he said the nation's chronic unemployment crisis will continue without significant social welfare reform.
"Work must pay and be seen to pay," he said.
"For the vast, vast majority of our job seekers, they want to get back to work as soon as possible. But because of the culture fostered by the previous governments, they are locked in a range of welfare traps - traps which take opportunities away from them, away from their children.
"We need to remove those traps, we need to break that cycle."
The Taoiseach reiterated that income tax would remain untouched in the budget, insisting the Government will not tax work.
He added that the country's controversial and relatively low corporation tax rate of 12.5% will also be left alone, to ensure Ireland remains attractive to investors and competitive on a global level.