Some elderly and disabled people will be condemned to a life of "misery and fear" unless the government acts now to reform the social care system, campaigners warned Tuesday.

In an open letter to Prime Minister David Cameron, a coalition of 78 campaign groups and charities called for an urgent overhaul of a system they say is "in crisis" and "chronically underfunded".

The group urged the premier to make social care reform his "personal mission" and to take tough decisions on funding to ensure all those who need care receive it.

"The system is a lottery -- some of us will be lucky enough to never need care, but there are many of us who need support at some stage in our lives to carry out everyday tasks and could lose everything: our savings, our dignity, our independence," said the letter, published in the Daily Mail and signed by organisations including Age UK and Saga.

It went on to warn of a "vicious circle" in which limited resources were focused only on those in greatest need, adding: "This only worsens the crisis in care, as many older or disabled people are left without support -- in quiet desperation, trying to cope alone, often ending up in hospital or crisis care."

Activists say families are also bearing the load of an underfunded system, with many carers "pushed to breaking point" looking after loved ones.

Under the current system, pensioners have to pay the cost of their own care if they have savings or assets worth more than £23,500.

The letter comes ahead of Wednesday's Queen's Speech which some groups fear will not include a bill on social care.

A White Paper on long-term care will be published in June, but will focus on the quality of care provision, not on the question of funding.

A Department of Health spokesman said: "We absolutely agree that the social care system is in need of reform.

"We have worked with people, including care providers and charities, to see what changes they want made in care and support.

"Their feedback -- more than 600 formal responses -- has shaped the forthcoming White Paper. This will make sure we create a sustainable system that will mean people and their carers get the quality of care they want."

[AFP Photo/Eric Cabanis]