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Urban poor and elderly hardest hit by Post Office closures

07 September 2007
The harsh impact of closing 2,500 Post Offices during the next 18 months will be most keenly felt by the young urban poor and the elderly, a new research study from the National Consumer Council has found.

The NCC and Dr Foster research consultancy’s study, Post Office Closures 2002 to 2006: lessons for 2007 to 2009, has found that it is some of the outer urban communities residing on the outskirts of cities that have a heavy reliance on their local Post Office and will bear the main brunt of the closures, and says that these areas should be targeted for protection on social grounds in the future.

Nicola O’Reilly, from the National Consumer Council, said “Protecting vulnerable communities from the impact of Post Office closures is no simple task. People are as important as places in these decisions. It’s vital that plans for the next 2,500 closures protect the people who would be hardest hit.”

It is areas such as these, large council estates on the outskirts of smaller cities such as Cardiff, Nottingham, and Leeds, that vulnerable people – especially single mums and the elderly – find an essential lifeline in their local Post Office because other financial avenues such as supermarkets and banks are few and far between.

These neighbourhoods tend to have a young demographic, who are on a low income and often unemployed or single parents without access to a car. These people will be hugely disadvantaged when the Post Offices close, as they have a high dependency on state benefits and a lack of access to a bank account and mainstream credit.

Unfortunately, it is also this demographic that are least able and least likely to make their opinions known. Ms O’Reily said that the Post Office must “recognise this and make it easier for them to give their views.”

Commenting on the impact of closures up to 2006, Professor Richard Webber, of University College London said: “At a national level, Post Office Ltd has worked with sub-postmasters’ preferences to decide which Post Offices should be closed. However, in practice, a consistent pattern is not easy to discern. Some neighbourhoods of acute social need do not seem to have benefited from protection and the closure rate is very uneven between similar areas, as well as across different regions of the country.”

New minimum access criteria for the impending 2,500 closures announced in May this year states that Post Office Ltd must take into account local demographics in developing local area plans, on which the closure decisions will be based. While measures for the distance to the nearest Post Office have been set out in the new criteria, measures of social need have not been specified.

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