Legislation to change the funding of social care for elderly and disabled people in England could be introduced during this Parliament, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has said.
In plans out this week, the government will agree in principle to a cap on what people pay towards their own care.
Labour says this is meaningless without funding details and a timetable.
It also said the government had abandoned cross-party talks on the issue, which was denied by Mr Lansley.
Last July, a review chaired by economist Andrew Dilnot put forward a raft of ideas for changes to adult social care funding in England.
The most notable of these was a £35,000 cap on what people should pay towards home visits or care home costs before they get help from the state.
BBC political correspondent Robin Brant says the government will sign up to the funding cap principle when it publishes its White Paper on Wednesday, but ministers will not make any pledges on specific figures because there is no agreement yet on how to pay for it.
With the UK economy showing little sign of recovery and the coalition still not halfway through its deficit reduction plan, the chancellor wants to delay a decision until at least autumn next year in the government-wide spending review, our correspondent adds.
On BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Lansley said: “You can’t be confident about the implementation of a cap on the costs that people have to pay, unless you are also clear about how you meet the costs.”
But Mr Lansley said he hoped shadow health secretary Andy Burnham would meet him before he delivered a progress report on the issue in the House of Commons next week.
Labour claims there have not been any substantial talks on the issue since February and wants publication of next week’s proposals postponed.
But the government insists discussions have been continuing, with correspondence between the two sides taking place in recent months.
Mr Burnham said: “This decision to go down this separate route and do their own report reflects a decision to put the reform of the funding of social care on a slower timetable.”
He went on: “A cap is meaningless if there is no plan to deliver it. How is it going to be paid for? What is the timetable to put it in place?
“You can only get progress by suspending politics as usual. If the government wants to re-open a meaningful two-way process then I will immediately go back into that.”
Simon Gillespie, chairman of the Care & Support Alliance, said it had been pressing for a long time for a “long-term funding solution, and one of the mechanisms to achieve that was to try to get all three of the main parties together because this is a long-term issue affecting many millions of people across England”.
“If it’s genuinely the case that those talks have stalled that will be very, very disappointing,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Currently in England, council-funded home help and care home places for the elderly and adults with disabilities are offered only to those with under £23,250 of assets.
The Dilnot report said the assets threshold should rise to £100,000 and a £35,000 lifetime cap on costs would be “fair”.
Just over £14bn a year is spent by councils on social care and changes would cost an extra £1.7bn a year if they were implemented now. This figure could rise by 50% as the “baby boom” generation begins to retire.
Govt sources say White Paper on social care this Wed ‘will be biggest reform of social care for 50 or 60 years’ #carecrisis #dilnot”
Campaign groups have said they fear the plans will be shelved because of the cost.
The Care & Support Alliance says one in two people needs care in their lifetime costing more than £20,000, while one in 10 requires care costing upwards of £100,000.
“We need to make sure that we have got arrangements in place so that that risk can be shared,” Mr Gillespie said. “People understand that it’s got to be a shared contribution between the overall taxpayer but also individuals as well.”
Michelle Mitchell, charity director general of Age UK, said acceptance in principle of Dilnot recommendations would be “a step forward and welcome, but with care in crisis now it is not nearly enough”.
“The government must set out the process by which it will make the all-important decisions about funding social care, including timescales and milestones. That is the very least older people and their families will be looking for next week.”
The coalition government had asked Mr Dilnot to look into how the system could be changed amid concerns it was getting harder for people to get access to state support.
The ageing population and squeeze on council budgets have led councils to impose stricter criteria on who can get help. It means while 1.8 million are getting state funding, another one million-plus either have to pay for support themselves or go without.
Multiple sclerosis sufferer David Allen told the BBC that he was forced to cancel his own care after the charges were raised by his council from £2.80 to £60 a week.
“At the time it was making me so ill, I had to make the very difficult decision, ‘Enough’s enough. Stop. You’re dragging me into debt. I’m not prepared to allow to be swallowed up in a hole that I can’t get out of.'” he said.
“It feels like I am being punished for having multiple sclerosis.”
The shadow health secretary said: “As councils cut budgets, we’ve got services being withdrawn from vulnerable people, people paying ever-increasing charges for care – so this really can’t go on.
“It is as bad as the American healthcare system, because the most vulnerable in our society are paying the biggest cost towards their own care. Some people are paying with their own home.”
Scotland offers free care to all, although fears have been raised that that policy is becoming unsustainable. Wales and Northern Ireland are waiting to see what happens in England following the Dilnot conclusions