Plans to end the plight of tens of thousands of elderly people forced to sell their homes to pay the costs of residential care were announced today by the Tories.
Under the Conservatives' proposals, for a one-off payment of about £8,000, people in England would receive a guarantee that all fees for permanent residential care would be waived for the rest of their life.
The Tories said that the "home protection plan" could be run by existing insurers and would not require any public money.
Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said that it would end a "major injustice" which each year saw an estimated 45,000 elderly people in England forced to sell their homes to pay for residential care.
The announcement sets the stage for next week's annual Conservative Party conference in Manchester.
It is clearly intended to trump Gordon Brown's promise at Labour's conference to provide free personal home care for 350,000 elderly people in England and Wales from September next year.
Mr Lansley said: "It is an immense injustice that every year, 45,000 ordinary elderly people are being forced to sell their family home and lose their life savings to pay for care when they are at their most vulnerable.
"This scheme is a genuinely huge step forward for England's care system and will lift a major weight of worry from the shoulders of all older people and their families."
Under the Conservative proposals, people will be given the option of signing up to the scheme when they reach the state retirement age of 65.
There will be a one-off joining fee, which the Conservatives estimate will be about £8,000. The scheme will be open to existing over 65s for a limited period of time.
The role of the Government will be restricted to setting out some basic rules and safeguards to ensure that it remains fair and financially viable over the long term.
The Tories said that it would offer "excellent value for money". Currently anyone entering residential care must pay their fees themselves if they have assets worth more than £23,000, including their home.
Most people who enter residential care stay for at least two years, with annual fees averaging about £26,000.
"In 12 years, Labour have failed to offer older people any hope of a way out of the forced home sales crisis," Mr Lansley said.
"A vote for the Conservatives is now a vote for a real, affordable alternative to losing your home if you need to enter residential care."
Care services minister Phil Hope described the Tories' measure as a "flawed proposal".
He said: "I am delighted that the Tories are finally engaging with this issue, although it's a shame that in their haste to come up with something they have cobbled together an unfunded policy for a voluntary scheme which would necessarily involve massive tax subsidies to pay for the shortfall.
"A one-off,up-front voluntary payment of £8,000 would not be enough to cover the cost of residential care.
"So where do they propose the rest of the money comes from? And it's hard to see how it would prevent people from having to sell their homes- how many pensioners have £8,000 lying around? Or £16,000 if you're married?"
"The Tories need to go back to the drawing board with this unaffordable and flawed proposal."Reuse content