Decisions on how to fund long-term care for the elderly will not be taken for up to two years, the Government has admitted, amid Labour accusations that it had abandoned cross-party talks.
Ministers will next week publish a progress report which backs the idea of imposing a cap on the total amount an individual should pay for care costs.
But a source conceded that there was "not any money available at the moment" and that no firm decisions on how to proceed would be taken until a spending review in 2013 or 2014.
That will probably rule out any change until after the next general election, due in 2015, which will anger campaigners who warn that it is one of the most pressing issues facing the country.
One of the most controversial factors is the rising number of pensioners forced to sell their homes to pay for care in a system which is itself desperately short of funding.
A £35,000 cap and a big rise in the means-tested asset threshold to £100,000 paid for by extra taxes on the elderly were recommended last year by the review chaired by economist Andrew Dilnot.
"At the next spending review we will look at how we can fund it," the source said. "If we decide to do reform it will be on the Dilnot model."
The progress report will be published next week alongside legislative proposals to review other parts of the state help for the elderly, including extra rights for carers and families. Its scheduled appearance, without input from the Opposition, sparked a political row.
"Labour will have no input into the progress report and it will not reflect our judgment about what should be in it. This is a missed opportunity and we are deeply disappointed," a senior source said. "By kicking the issue into the long grass, the Government are ignoring the current care crisis and the urgency of reforming our care system."
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: "It would be a matter of regret for us if the Labour Party will not continue with talks to find consensus on long-term funding of care. I have made clear that while we will make a progress report shortly on this, we want to continue such talks not only between parties but with a broad range of stakeholders."