The Government's social care plans were branded a "train crash" today after Health Secretary Andy Burnham confirmed a national care service would not be created for at least five years.
An NHS-style universal service was put at the heart of a long-awaited White Paper described by Prime Minister Gordon Brown as a "bold and ambitious" reform of services for the elderly.
But the paper confirmed it would not be operational until "after 2015" while a cross-party National Care Commission examines options for how people would contribute.
Among them will be a so-called "death tax" of 10% on estates which Mr Burnham indicated remained on the table despite being apparently ruled out by Chancellor Alistair Darling last night.
Opposition parties accused the Government of dodging the need for urgent action amid ongoing political arguments over how long-term care will be funded.
The White Paper commits the Government to creating a "comprehensive" service "based in need rather than the ability to pay".
"The commission will determine the fairest and most sustainable way for people to contribute. It will make recommendations to ministers which, if accepted, will be implemented alongside the introduction of a comprehensive national care service in the Parliament after next," it said.
It also contains a commitment to making residential care free after the second year by 2014 on top of legislation being debated at present to exempt the most needy from charges.
In the foreword to the document, the Prime Minister wrote: "This is a new chapter in the story of our welfare state: a chance to change the way care and support are delivered."
The Tories, who propose a voluntary £8,000 one-off premium at 65 to guarantee free care, ridiculed the blueprint.
"The Government is in complete retreat and they have ended up with not a White Paper but frankly a train crash," shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said.
"We seem to have arrived at the point where Andy Burnham is saying he wants everyone to have free care but he doesn't know how to pay for it."
Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb said: "After 13 years in power spent ducking social care reform, we probably shouldn't be surprised that Labour has once again hit it into the long grass.
"A White Paper without any commitment to substantial change in the next Parliament is barely worth the paper it is written on.
"We're now being offered a series of piecemeal reforms that have not been properly thought through or costed.
"Seeking consensus is the right approach but that will only work if the cross-party commission is free to consider all ways of funding social care, not just Labour's preferred policy.
"The commission should report within a year so changes can be implemented straight away."Reuse content