The scandal of pensioners selling their homes to pay for residential care could drag on until 2025.
It had been hoped a fairer system would be in place by 2015 but it emerged last night that it might take a decade longer.
In a further blow, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley refused to rule out a pensioner tax to pay for old age care.
Ministers also admit that people will have to take more responsibility for themselves by spending thousands on insurance schemes or by releasing equity in their homes.
Campaigners expressed outrage at the likely delay, which would see hundreds of thousands more pensioners having to sell up – denying their children an inheritance.
Ros Altmann, of the over-50s group Saga, said: ‘Reform of long-term care cannot be left to the long term.
‘If we don’t engage in proper reform now, it will cost far more later, both in terms of money and poorer quality of life. If we wait until 2025, the NHS could be bankrupt.’
Michelle Mitchell of Age UK said: ‘Care is in crisis now. We need reform now and not in ten years’ time.’
Whitehallofficials have revealed that a social care white paper, to be published in the spring, will focus on the quality of provision alone. The issue of paying for it has been relegated to a ‘progress’ document.
Ministers are now thinking in terms of both elements not being in place until well after the 2020 general election.
Mr Lansley commissioned a report on the care system from respected economist Andrew Dilnot, who proposed capped contributions from pensioners, with the state stepping in to pay the rest.
Those wanting to protect themselves against the full costs could take out insurance under a system Mr Dilnot said he hoped would be in place by 2015.
But the Treasury took fright at the potential cost and the Department of Health has started to kick the issue into the long grass.
Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society, said yesterday he believed the final date would be 2025.
‘One of our pieces of work was looking at what would it take over time to develop insurance schemes that would be marketable and would actually deliver results,’ he said. ‘For all those factors to be in place, we thought 2025 was a realistic timescale.’
Mr Lansley admitted that changing the funding regime would take time but that support and consensus must come first.
The Health Secretary said extra resources would be needed: ‘We are looking to do that on the basis recognising that some of these changes, starting now, will have impacts that take 10-, 20-plus years to come to fruition.
‘We want to make sure that we create a structure where people have the greatest possible incentive to make provision because they know there is a system that is predictable and stable.’
Asked whether he had considered Mr Dilnot’s suggestion of a higher tax on pensioners, Mr Lansley replied: ‘To be blunt, we are looking, of course we are, we’re looking at a whole range of options.’
Social care minister Paul Burstow said another reason for delay was that millions of people would have to be assessed for eligibility for state funding.
He said any new system should also make people think: ‘What can I do with my resources now which can prevent and postpone me becoming more dependent on others later?’
Andy Burnham, Labour’s health spokesman, said: ‘England’s care crisis is urgent and this is not good enough from the Health Secretary.
‘He might be prepared to wait 15 years, but the thousands who stand to lose their homes haven’t got that long.’
Last night a Department of Health source said there would be no reform of the funding system for social care until after the next election. ‘The solution was never going to be ready in this Parliament,’ he said.
‘We have a white paper in the new year and we are seeking to establish cross-party talks to fix social care. We do not think this will take until 2025.’
Experts say a tax of 2p in the pound on the over-65s would be required to fund the £1.7billion cost of the Dilnot system.
At least 20,000 homes are sold each year to fund residential care – a figure some believe to be far too low.
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