Disabled and elderly people are increasingly relying on their friends and family to look after them, as fewer people are able to qualify for social care, a report has warned.

The increasing number of people needing help and rising costs of care has led to councils tightening rules about who can qualify for state-funded help.

While services are improving for those who are eligible, many people are being left simply to cope, the report titled The State of Social Care in England 2005/06, published by the Commission for Social Care Inspection (CSCI), said.

Informal carers are left to fill the gaps with inadequate support structures to help them, which can affect their ability to hold down a career, look after their children and may damage their own long-term health, the report said.

The chair of the CSCI, Dame Denise Platt, said: "Social care services in England are getting better, but only for those people who manage to qualify for help.

"Those who do qualify have a high level of need. The options for people who do not meet the criteria are limited. Some have no option but to do without."