The present means-tested funding system for adult social care is unsustainable in the long-term, health secretary Patricia Hewitt has said.
Hewitt told the National Children and Adult Services Conference on Friday the government would initiate a public debate on adult social care funding along the lines of the recent pensions debate.
She said the government had decided to set up a policy review group to look at the impact on public services of the ageing population and other demographic changes, which would provide the framework for the debate.
However, she appeared to rule out extending the debate to health, as demanded by groups including the Association of Directors of Social Services, indicating NHS care would remain free at the point of delivery.
She also ruled out extending direct payments to health care.