You could be forgiven for not knowing that this week the government announced wide scale closures of urban Post Offices. Perhaps this was the Bad News that they have been apparently burying all week, although given that these closures will primarily affect the frail elderly and the disabled I somehow doubt it.
Small, local post offices provide an essential community service: for many isolated, elderly people they are a social centre, an opportunity for face-to-face relationship and contact, a source of community information and a place for advice and support. My local postmistress assists a number of her frail/forgetful elderly customers with official correspondence and paying of bills and is an informal monitor of their general well-being. I have even known her to call out a GP if she is worried about their health. (In fact, she provides exactly the kind of service that social workers used to provide, before they were chained to their desks and forbidden from actually visiting their elderly clients.) The walk to the post office keeps elderly people ambulant and socially active, thus holding back both physical and psychological decline.
Thus we can see that closing these post offices is a Very Bad Thing Indeed, which will eventually cost us in terms of increased demand on health and social services.
The bit that really, really hacks me off, though, is Blair’s defence. In a marvellous example of doublethink, he argues that these post offices are closing due to lack of public demand. Because for the past five years the Department of Work and Pensions has been bullying (yes, bullying) pensioners and people on benefits to have their weekly money paid into a bank account. Bank accounts that most of these people have never had and don’t want. It may come as a surprise to most middle-class professionals that the vast majority of people who live solely on benefits prefer cash in their pocket, as it is the only way they can budget on the miserly amount that the state permits them. Honest, its true. Some people just do not want a bank account. They want to take cash from the post office, and pay their bills in cash over the counter (or put cash on their electricity meter cards, which are quaint things that only very poor people have.) But now they can’t. And Blair can happily close these post offices because the only people that use them have no political clout.
Mr Blair, your cynicism appals me.