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Provided by Mae Stewart, Editor UNISON Retired members Newsletter, Dundee, Perth and Angus.
Please note that this is not definitive information about benefits but will provide a signpost as to where to get up to date information. Please check the sources first. UNISON Scotland can take no responsibility for information that may be outdated or inaccurate.

Issue 40 December 2011

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Inflation costs over 55s an extra 978 per year

On the one year anniversary of the Silver RPI, a measure of inflation as it impacts on older people, latest findings show that over 55s have seen an 18 per cent rise in living costs since 2008 - almost 5 per cent more than the general population. This means that someone aged 55 or over is now, on average, 978 a year worse off than official measures recognise.

This increases to over 1,100 in additional annual costs for those aged 65-69. In the last 12 months alone the cost of living for those aged over 55 has risen by 1173 in absolute terms.

The dramatic increase in costs experienced by those in later life comes at a time when retirement income is under increased pressure. Low interest rates means savings returns have been hit while annuity rates are at an all-time low of 5,600 per 100,000 or 5.6 per cent.

Combined with increasing life expectancy, those retiring today will have a smaller pot of cash to sustain them over a longer period of time than those who retired five years ago.

Commenting on the findings, Logan Steele, General Manager, Age Scotland Enterprises said: "At a time when the value of annuities is in free fall and savings generate little or no income, it is extremely worrying that those over 55 have seen the additional annual costs they face increase by six per cent in just one year. The Silver RPI shows that, since 2008, this age group is, on average, nearly 1,000 a year worse off than official measures recognise.

"We have to recognise that as life expectancy increases, and we see more people live into their '80s, 90s or to being over 100, action has to be taken to help them plan ahead to protect and maximise their income. Government and the financial services industry must improve the range of financial products available to those in later life, and the information and support available to ensure consumers only ever buy what best meets their needs. Unless this is addressed, there is a real danger that poverty will become the norm for those in the last decades of their lives."

Erik Britton of Fathom Financial Consulting, the former Bank of England inflation specialists which developed the Silver RPI in partnership with Age UK Enterprises, said: "Inflation figures are at record highs but what's clear is that the effects are far worse if you're in later life. With soaring costs of fuel, food and petrol prices, inflation for September was forced up to a record 5.8 per cent. Unless the rate falls, pensioners spending power will be even further The Silver RPI shows that those over 55 do not experience cost rises at the same rate.

'Younger' people in later life aged between 55 and 59 have experienced inflation at 0.11 per cent below Headline RPI since June 2011 in contrast to 'older' people in later life over the age of 75 who have experienced a larger increase in prices. Those over 75 have experienced additional cost increases at 0.39 per cent above the general population.

Those in later life experience cost rises above the general population for two main reasons. Firstly, they typically carry less mortgage debt therefore have benefited less from the low interest rate environment of the last three years. At the same time, they spend proportionally more on products and services, including food and fuel that have increased significantly in price. Over the period June 2011 to September 2011, utilities prices rose by 10.4 per cent.

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Don't Let Winter Catch You Out - says NHS

The NHS Scotland campaign advises people that by re-stocking their medicine cabinet, ordering repeat prescriptions and knowing their GP surgery opening and closing times over the festive holidays, they can ensure they well prepared to cope with winter health.

Health Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: "It is important to remember that access to GPs and pharmacists will be limited over Christmas and New Year. Planning ahead can help ensure that coughs, colds and minor ailments don't become a big problem for you and your family this winter.

"As well as making sure you have sufficient supplies of any regular medication you may need, your medicine cabinet should be well stocked with things like painkillers, a cough bottle and antiseptic.

"Last year's winter was one of the most severe ever seen in Scotland so it is important to be prepared. A little preparation can really pay off to make sure that minor health problems don't become a major headache."

This year, GP surgeries will be closed for four days at Christmas (December 24-27) and for four days again at New Year (December 31 - January 3). Dr Crooks said: "I would advise people to take the time now to re-stock their medicine cabinet with items such as paracetamol, cough mixture, throat lozenges and cold and flu treatments, to deal with any winter ailments that may inevitably strike this winter.

"Your local pharmacist is also a good source of information and advice on re-stocking your medicine cabinet. If you need to visit your GP, try to schedule an appointment before the festive period and submit your repeat prescription request in plenty of time. Remember you can also access out of hours GP services through NHS 24 on 08454 24 24 24."

Dr Dean Marshall, Chairman of the BMA's Scottish General Practitioners Committee said: "Winter is the time of year when a lot of people will develop a cold or flu and the best way to manage these ailments is to ensure that you stock up on the remedies that are available in pharmacies and supermarkets. For those who are eligible, it's important to get the annual flu vaccination from your GP surgery.

"While it's important to be prepared, patients should be reassured that over the holiday season, even if their GP surgery is closed, they will be able to see a GP if they need to. Anyone experiencing health problems during the holidays should contact NHS 24 for advice."

The national Be Ready for Winter campaign is supported by NHS Scotland in partnership with NHS 24, the Scottish Ambulance Service and all 14 Scottish Health Boards. General advice and information on how to stay healthy this winter can be found at www.nhsinform.co.uk or contact NHS inform on 0800 22 44 88.

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Four things to do in preparation for winter

Restock your winter medicine cabinet

Many adults pick up common winter ailments such as a cold or flu-like illness. These can often be effectively treated at home with readily available medicine.

Use your local pharmacy

Your local pharmacy is an accessible resource and your pharmacist can offer advice or help if you have run out of any prescribed medication. You can also collect medicine for minor ailments or illnesses.

Make sure you have repeat prescriptions

If you or someone you care for requires medicines regularly, make sure you order and collect repeat prescriptions in good time to ensure you or your family have enough medicine to last over the Christmas holiday period.

Know when your GP surgery will be open

Your local doctor's surgery will be open on Friday 23rd December, then closed for four days during the Christmas period and it will reopen on Wednesday 28th. The surgery will be shut again from December 31st-3rd January at, and reopen on Wednesday 4th January, 2012.

Cut Your Risk of Diabetes

The older we get, the more likely we are to get diabetes, specifically type 2. Around 1 in 7 older people have diabetes and these numbers are likely to rise. Although no-one completely understands the causes of diabetes, if you control the risk factors, you can reduce your chances of getting it.

The facts about diabetes

Since 1996, the number of people with diabetes has increased from 1.4 million to 2.6 million. By 2025, it's estimated that more than 4 million will have diabetes in the UK. 9 out of 10 of these cases are type 2 diabetes, the preventable form of the condition.

Although we don't know the causes, there are a number of factors that can increase your chance of developing type 2 diabetes, so by taking simple steps, you can lower your chances of getting it.

1. Lose weight: Quite simply, shedding pounds will drastically reduce your chances of getting type 2 diabetes. 80% of people who have diabetes are overweight, so if you are overweight or obese, it's time to think about cutting back. A good measure is your waist size. More than 31.5 inches (80cm) for a woman and 37 inches (94cm) for a man and you need to start thinking about cutting back.

2. Increase your exercise levels It goes without saying that increasing the amount of time you spend exercising will make you feel better and help towards losing weight. Research has found that regular exercise can reduce your risk of developing by up to 64%, so it is backed up by science. Talk to your GP for an idea of some suitable exercises for you.

3. Stop smoking Most people are aware of smoking's link to cancer, but not as many understand how it's connected to diabetes. Smoking has been proven to increase blood pressure levels, which are known to be a major cause of diabetes. If you need help giving up, the NHS runs a free stop smoking service.

4. Eat healthily A diet that is low in fat, sugar and salt and contains a lot of fruit and veg will reduce your cholesterol levels - a simple way to reduce your risk of diabetes. Page-6 Cut Your Risk of Diabetes - continued Studies published in 2009 revealed that eating processed meat ups your risk of diabetes by 40% and more recent research has shown that vegetarians are a third less likely to suffer from heart problems, a stroke or diabetes.

5. Cut down on alcohol Drinking alcohol can contribute towards the conditions that cause diabetes. Booze can increase your chances of putting on weight, as it is essentially empty calories. A pint of beer, for example, can be equivalent to a bar of chocolate. Heavy drinking can also lead to conditions such as chronic pancreatitis, which has a side effect of diabetes. There's nothing wrong with a little alcohol in moderation, but excessive drinking can definitely lead to an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

What next?

Get checked out: Type 2 diabetes is, by and large, a condition that affects people over the age of 40, so it's important to get a check up from your doctor. They can advise if what sort of risk you have and what action, if any, you should take.

(Excerpts taken from Age Scotland and Age UK; and is for information purposes only.) My apologies to all contributors for any misquote.

Mae Stewart