On Monday, at the age of 85, Benedict XVI became the first Pope in at least 600 years to resign, rather than die in office.  It was a striking sign of changing times.

Today's transparency makes it far harder for people to hold office when seriously incapacitated than used to be the case.  When Churchill suffered a series of strokes in his latter years as Prime Minister, the public simply wasn't told - an inconceivable decision today.

People are living far longer, and this has profound implications for health and social care.  The number of people over 85 in this country will double by 2030.

It is a great worry for people that their savings may be wiped out by the costs of the care they may require in their later years.

These worries were examined by Andrew Dilnot in a report for the Government, and this week the Government announced its response.

Currently, the lack of a limit on care costs, and the unpredictable nature of care needs, leave many people facing vast bills, with almost one in five older people facing care costs over £75,000.

But from 2017, reasonable care costs will be capped at £75,000.

Also, at the moment, the Government does not step in unless care costs exceed £23,250.  Now, that threshold will be more than quadrupled, increasing to £123,000.

I appreciate that many people will have assets above this threshold, but this is -rightly - about protecting people with modest means and the greatest lifetime care needs.

This is a very expensive new policy and there has been some concern that the Government intends to fund it partly by freezing the Inheritance Tax threshold for three years.

But this element actually pays for only a fifth of the costs, and after all the new policy is about helping to protect people's assets.

Since 2007, the Inheritance Tax threshold has been effectively doubled to £650,000 for married couples.  When resources allow, I would like to see that threshold increase, and one day Inheritance Tax - which I think is an iniquitous double tax - abolished.

Overall, however, I believe these new care plans are an important step forward.  Successive governments have avoided dealing with this issue for too long.  Now, at last, there is a policy that will help to give greater certainty and peace of mind about the costs of care that call fall on any of us. 

Christopher N Howarth