Hazel Blears has revealed the forthcoming social care green paper could determine councils' contribution to looking after older and disabled people over the next 30 years.
In an exclusive LGC interview, the communities and local government secretary said the health and social care sectors needed to "come together" to debate where the costs should fall in supporting growing numbers of people to live independently.
Ms Blears said: "The green paper is an excellent opportunity to look forward for the next 20 or 30 years and consider what that framework should be.
"We need to look at how you get the right share of the burden falling in the right place, whether that's a contribution that people themselves make; how much the health service puts in and how much local government puts in."
Her words will be seen to signal a willingness in the Department for Communities & Local Government to deal with the 'black hole' in budgets from rising care demands.
The promise of a green paper in last week's comprehensive spending review follows Sir Derek Wanless's report for the King's Fund health think tank, which called for a partnership model where recipients would be entitled to an agreed level of free care after which their contribution would be matched by the state up to a defined limit (LGC, 31 March 2006).
His report forecast that spending on care for older people would have to raise£10.1bn in 2002 to£24bn in 2026.
Local Government Association chair Sir Simon Milton (Con) said: "The [green paper] is long overdue and talk about future changes does little to alleviate the unpalatable situation many elderly people are currently facing today."
Jenny Owen, executive director of social care at Essex CC, said: "We need a system where the money follows the person whether they are in health or social care at any given moment."
Hertfordshire CC director of adult social care Sarah Pickup said: "It's good that this is not just about older people, but also about learning disabilities and mental health where there are serious cost pressures.
"This needs to look at all sources of funding, including the benefit system, and how they could be targeted."