Too many people have to reach a crisis point before they get the health and social care they need, the British Red Cross said.
It warned that failing to adequately fund social care and preventative services is a false economy, and called on the Government to look again at what resources are provided to local authorities in England.
In its report, Prevention in Action which looks at how English local authorities and health and wellbeing boards are dealing with the issue, the charity found there is a severe lack of understanding, innovation and development in this area.
It found that more than 80% of local authorities have developed or are creating a local approach to prevention.
The charity is calling for health and social care decision-makers to use the Care Act's triple definition of prevention in their planning.
The triple definition suggests that services should seek to prevent, reduce and delay the need for care and support.
Only 12 out of 151 joint health and well-being strategies are using the official definition, according to the BRC.
Chloe Carter of the BRC said: "Local authorities must continue to look for ways to invest in new and innovative preventative interventions but they can't do this alone.
"At a time when budgets are tight, we urge Government to look again at how to best enable local authorities to implement the Care Act's new duties in a meaningful way.
"It is only through such investment that we can hope to increase and improve the provision of prevention services in England."