Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/517/3662
Post office campaign: Changes in the law to break the poor
Life will be made much harder for many elderly and disabled people with the planned closures of around 2,500 post offices across the country this year.
The Post Office is rolling out the closure programme, with different areas affected at different times, making it harder to build a united national campaign to fight to save them.
In Bolsover, North Derbyshire, in the first wave of closures, announced last October, nine branches were to be axed in the district, affecting ex-mining villages with few other facilities.
Many elderly people, after a lifetime of hard and often dangerous work, have difficulty travelling to the nearest town to get their money, pay bills and do their shopping. The local post office, often a village shop, is their lifeline.
In Bolsover, there was an immediate outburst of anger when the Post Office held a six-week 'consultation' period. Hundreds of individual protests from each village and estate were collected, rallies held and large meetings organised. But the Post Office ignored this and after the 'consultation' gave just over a month's notice of closure in every case.
Our only chance of stopping this was to build a national campaign. We started a legal challenge aimed at delaying local closures while other areas joined the campaign as they found out their closure hit-lists.
Some public law lawyers agreed to take on our case (without charge) and since Christmas have given invaluable advice and a great deal of work.
A solicitor's letter to the Post Office managing director (Alan Cook, reportedly on £1 million bonus for delivering this closure programme on time), argued that the consultation process was flawed and that the Post Office appeared not to have assessed the impact of closures on disabled people, as required by the Disability Discrimination Act.
Disabled people who were eligible for legal aid volunteered to act as the claimants if we got to judicial review. Local campaigners and our solicitors put a great deal of work into preparing a strong case.
Just before our deadline to the Post Office ran out, their solicitors advised us that to our bitter disappointment, last year the Disability Discrimination Act had been amended. The Post Office was no longer required to assess the impact of closures on disabled people!
Furthermore, since the Postal Services Act of 2000 the Royal Mail Group, the Post Office's parent company, is run as a publicly owned commercial organisation, rather than as a public service. We were told we had a less than 50% chance of success and would not get legal aid.
The Socialist Party explained from the start that the government would clear the way for this closure programme, smashing up a public service so profit-grabbing banks and supermarkets can make even more obscene profits.
They don't care about the elderly and disabled who need to get their money to buy bread and milk but don't have the means to buy financial services.
Labour MPs and councillors who opposed closures in their local areas cannot keep supporting 'their government' without exposing their hypocrisy.
We must explain to people seeing their post office close that a new workers' party is needed to defend public services.
In The Socialist 23 January 2008:
Socialist Party women
Socialist Party campaign news
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news