Means testing that has forced thousands of elderly people to sell their family homes to pay for their care in old age could be ended with a forthcoming Government Green Paper.
Alan Johnson, the Health Secretary, gave a strong signal that the paper on social care will lead to more state aid for the elderly but it would be delayed well beyond the next decade.
He said the Government would be seeking a consensus for implementing the recommendations of the Wanless report, which called for investment to treble by 2026.
At the moment, those with assets of more than £20,500 have to pay for personal care. Sir Derek Wanless, in his report for the independent think-tank, the King's Fund, said means testing should be ended.
It stopped short of backing free social care but suggested a minimum care package should be topped up by personal contributions matched by the state. Ministers said they believed more elderly people should be treated at home.
Mr Johnson yesterday ruled out adopting the Scottish Parliament policy of allowing free care for the elderly, saying it could lead to the whole of the £90bn NHS budget being used up.
Describing it as "an historic advance", the Health Minister for the elderly, Ivan Lewis said: "There are no easy solutions. But the Green Paper will tackle head-on the scale of the challenge."
Funding reforms will be coupled with proposals for giving the elderly more control over the supply of home helps to deliver greater dignity for the old in their own homes.
Liberal Democrats and Labour left-wingers have united in their demands in the Commons for the Government to be more generous to pensioners. Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat spokesman has urged ministers to embrace the Scottish system of free care for the elderly.