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Fairness and Security in Old Age

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:50 pm on 10th September 2003.

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Photo of Patsy Calton Patsy Calton Liberal Democrat, Cheadle 1:50 pm, 10th September 2003

I shall address my remarks to post office closures, as they are particularly apposite to what the Minister said about not being pessimistic about ageing. I intend to show that I am not pessimistic about ageing. I want older people to be able to exert their independence for as long as possible.

So far, three post office closures have affected my constituency: two in the constituency itself, in Fir road in Bramhall and in Grove lane in Cheadle Hulme, and one just outside the constituency in Grosvenor road in Cheadle. We have just passed the so-called consultation period for the closure of Cheadle road post office. My colleagues, local councillors and I invited local people to tell us about their circumstances and to say how the closures would affect them. There was only a short month in which to conduct the investigation, but we did so. Some of the messages we received were poignant. As we suspected, we found that we were dealing with real people living in real, linked, identifiable communities, based around local shopping parades at the heart of which is often the post office—not urban sprawl, as the Post Office terms it.

In other cases of possible closure, I have had occasion to speak with representatives of the Post Office about their so-called visits to the areas involved to get to know their characteristics. On close questioning and as a result of frequent letter writing, I found that their visits to local areas are based on geographic information systems. Those visits were conducted via computers; they were two-dimensional visits looking at streets and roads, with communities marked as grey shading around roads. Those representatives did not actually visit the area. That is not good enough; it certainly does not allow them to know what truly forms a community.

The present public consultation is a sham, as the postmaster has already made it clear that he has decided to close one post office, and in the other cases we have heard that he intends to do so. We are not quite holding our breath but we are waiting to see whether we will receive the same standard letter about the closure of Cheadle road post office as was sent about all the other closures.

We have received more than 100 individual replies about the matter, and many more have written to the Post Office team, and Stockport metropolitan borough council has also responded. The key point people made was that the distances quoted by the Post Office when they engage in consultation are as the crow flies, post office to post office; they do not take into account the additional distances that people often have to travel. The distance to alternative offices from more distant areas of my constituency, such as the lower parts of Buckingham road in Cheadle Hulme, Grange avenue and Warwick close, are much greater than the 0.7 miles quoted by the Post Office in the consultation.

The distances quoted do not take into account the particular circumstances when the alternatives are examined. The alternative Mellor road post office in Cheadle Hulme may be accessible once people get there, but people in wheelchairs and elderly, infirm people cannot cope with the steep climb up the road to get to it in the first place. It is therefore impractical, and there are no alternatives to get to that post office by bus.

Older and younger people recognised the valuable contribution that sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses make to the community, and the impossible position that the Government and the Post Office have created for them. My constituents, like everyone else, use the post office for drawing their pensions, withdrawing money, buying stamps, paying bills by giro and using their council swipe cards, which the council introduced to make it easier for people to pay their council bills, and for posting parcels.

Elderly people told us what a difference it will make to their lives if they cannot access the post office. For example, Mrs. Menges of 2 Rosthernmere road can walk to the post office now; she would have to drive to Turves road and Mellor road post offices, where the parking is inadequate; Mrs. Wright, who also lives in Rosthernmere road, has a walking disability, so although she walks to the Cheadle road post office she could not walk to the others; Mr. Ford, of 35 Farley court is an 80-year-old who can walk to Cheadle road post office but would not be able to get to the alternatives; Mrs. H. Scott, aged 92, and Mrs. M. Jones, who is 89, both walk to Cheadle road post office in spite of disabilities, but they cannot be expected to get on the bus to go to the other post offices.

Dr. Al-Hassani can walk to Cheadle road post office in spite of having a disability but he, too, could not walk to the alternatives; Miss Holloway, who is 86, finds it hard to walk even to Cheadle road post office and certainly could not do so to the alternatives. Mrs. McDonagh of 105 Buckingham road suffers from chronic asthma, osteoarthritis and osteoporosis and is being treated for breast cancer. She could not reach the alternatives except by taxi, which she cannot afford. Mrs. Wellings is 86 years old and suffers from Parkinson's disease. Mr. Bean of flat 10, Regency Court is a younger person who is wheelchair bound and is looked after by his parents, who are in their 80s. They could not wheel him to alternative post offices, nor cope with getting him in and out of a car.

I could go on. Mr. Masters who, in spite of being 91 and blind still manages to get to the post office—