Saturday, December 16, 2006

Blair's cynicism: part one...

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.


That's so pants said...

I absolutely agree. I cannot imagine where they are getting this notion that there is no demand. Somehow long lines of people waiting to get served doesn't seem to translate as 'demand' to government. In addition to callously ignoring the modest needs of the most vulnerable in our communities, they also seem to be unaware that increasing use of the postal service by people ordering over the internet is a growing business opportunity and it will only remain viable whilst there is a network of post offices and costs are low. Alternative package delivery services like DHL cost ten times as much as parcel post. You can put a post office in almost any shop. Some communities have them in pubs. They are just not listening.

Ms Melancholy said...

I like your phrase - 'modest needs'. It's so true. The most vulnerable, despite popular representations, really do ask for so little. They want enough money to live on, a modicum of respect and a post office that they can walk to. It's not asking for a lot is it? Really?

Anonymous said...

We used (used) to have a little post office at the top of our street. I live in a moderately widespread cathedral city of some 30,000 people that used to have a dozen or so little post offices dotted around, in addition to the main post office. They've been steadily vanishing. The one near me was built into a small general store, both run by husband and wife. It's main customers were schoolchildren (2 schools nearby) and locals, particularly elderly locals; the city has a remarkably high percentage of pensioners out of the total number of residents.

I remember seeing a gentleman being issued his benefits over the counter; he was of distinctly diminished mental capacity, but he was used to collecting his benefits from the post office. Gwen, the postmaster, used to hand it to him carefully, in a collection of small amounts. "This is what you have to give your mum for your gas bill, remember? And this is for your water bill, and this is for your food..." and with each collection, she'd watch him fold the coins and notes into different pockets neatly before he ambled off home.

The post office and store closed a couple of years ago now. The post office was driven out of business because so many people were driven to have all of their benefits paid directly into their accounts, rather than collecting them in person.

I wonder now - does that gentleman have a kindly bank manager who can dispense monies the way Gwen used too?