The number of elderly people in England getting council-funded care has fallen by 11% in the last two years, figures obtained by Labour suggest.
Freedom of Information responses from 121 councils showed they provided free care to 59,056 over 65s in 2011-12, down from 66,342 in 2009-10.
The drop comes despite the rise in over-65s due to the ageing population.
Campaigners said it proved the system needed urgent reform - something ministers say they are looking to do.
Labour asked all 153 councils that have responsibility for providing free care at home and in care homes a series of FOI questions.
Responses were received from around 80% (121) of local authorities.
Not all councils could provide data for the current 2012-13 year, but the figures from those that did suggested the rate of decrease was accelerating.
Cost of care rising
It is already well-known that councils have been struggling to provide enough care because of the ageing population and the squeeze on their budgets.
Many have responded by tightening their eligibility criteria, so that only those with the most severe needs qualify for care in the first place.
The fall in the numbers getting council-funded support shows what impact the changes to eligibility have had.
Labour also asked how much councils charged people who paid for their own care; only those with assets of below £14,250 get all their help paid for.
The data showed that average fees were rising and now stood at £13.61 an hour for home care, and that the number of councils capping the amount a person has to pay has reduced in recent years.
Liz Kendall, shadow minister for care and older people, said: "These services are a lifeline for older people and crucial to help them stay living independently in their own homes.
"The government is out of touch with the growing care crisis."
Richard Humphries, an expert in social care at health think-tank the Kings Fund, told the BBC the figures came as no surprise to him.
"We have known for some time that although we face a burgeoning rise in numbers of older and younger people with disabilities that need care, the amount of resources that this government and the previous one have put in, has not kept pace with that.
"The result is that [some] councils are responding... by putting up charges, and most actually rationing care much more tightly.
"Fewer people are actually getting the care they that they need, and those that are and having to pay more for it," he added.
He believes all eyes are on the government, to see whether it enacts the recommendations of the Dilnot commission, which last year said people should pay no more than £35,000 in their lifetime, towards their care costs.
Councillor David Rogers, of the Local Government Association, agrees that "urgent reform of how care is provided to our rapidly ageing population" is essential, otherwise the situation is "going to get much worse".
"An average of 40 percent of council budgets is being spent on this issue, and in some cases it is 60 percent.
"That's actually on a very small proportion of the population and has a big impact on the other services we can provide," he added.
Care Services minister Paul Burstow said a White Paper would be published soon on how the government planned to reform social care.
He added: "We are working hard to secure cross-party agreement to find a sustainable long-term solution on social care funding."