The social care white paper unveiled on Tuesday is an important step on the way to getting politicians and voters to face difficult choices.

Caught up in the vortex of the election, its publication inevitably suffered from overblown rhetoric. Health secretary Andy Burnham’s claim that he was launching a national care service obscured the truth that establishing anything approaching such a service - even on statute book paper - is years away.

But at least, long after ministers should have got to grips with the future of social care, the white paper begins to flush out the options. If you strip away the endless and distracting references to fairness it spells out that the issue is not whether it is free, but how we pay.

Tory taunts about a death tax - a jibe which is as cheap as it is effective - have buried the chance of a mature pre-election debate on how citizens will make compulsory contributions totalling around £3bn a year. But the landscape on which future decisions will be made is taking form.