英伦广角British Vision(104):英邮政局新一轮关闭计划引发残疾人抗议

Last post for disabled people?

A disabled woman from Hastings says she's being discriminated against because her local post office is earmarked for closure.

The Channel 4 News has learned that the government amended legislation which would have forced it to take account the needs of disabled people just weeks before announcing that thousands of post offices were closed. The department of work and pensions haven't offered an explanation for this change. But campaigners say it is illegal, and they are taking the government to court. Katie Razzall has the exclusive report from the battlefield in Hastings.

107.8 Arrow FM, news for Hastings and 1066 Country.

A Hastings' couple will learn next week if their legal challenge against post office closures could lead to a U-turn.

Jonathan Coe's wife is disabled. She is too distressed about her condition to appear on television. But on Monday London's High Court will hear her lawyer's argue that closing her local post office is against the law.

"I thought it was an absolutely incomprehensible decision and that made me quite cross on behalf of my wife and indeed my mother-in-law."

The Disability Discrimination Act includes a list of organizations that have a duty to promote quality for the disabled. Just a month before the Royal Mail announced it planned to shut 2500 branches, it was removed from that list--the only organization ever to be taken off.

"It's very difficult for groups of disabled people to bring this kind of legislation to the Statute book. But then to suddenly discover that on a whim, a minister has decided that no longer will this particular law apply to the Royal Mail is, frankly, an outrage."

Mr. Coe's wife can't walk or stand for long periods, having a post office close by ensures she doesn't have to. Her lawyer argues that the then-secretary of state for Work and Pensions John Harten was wrong to exempt the Royal Mail.

"And it's outside of his powers given to him by Parliament. He was allowed to pass regulations to promote disability quality. He was not allowed to pass regulations to relax the obligations on public authorities, to do just that."

"And there's no seats, you have to stand."

Royal Mail is more than halfway through its national closure program. It loses four million pounds a week and says many of the services it used to provide are now offered online in three banks. 49 branches have already shut in Sussex in the attempt to make Royal Mail more sustainable, including this former sub post office on the seafront. There're many locals still don't realize it.

These pensioners combined age of 1023 rely on that branch for paying bills, getting money and benefits, more than just a place to buy stamps. For them, the post office is a public service. Their new branch is too far for many of them to attempt.

"Because I can't cope with it anymore, and I get a bit frightened when you carry money, you know, too far."

"It's taken away independence from a large number of elderly and disabled people in this area, and it seems to me that the government is always wanting elderly people to remain independent, to stay in their own homes, and that's what's happened, it's taken away the independence of people."

"Well I thought I'll test how long it takes me to get to the new post office, 9 minutes past 4......Hastings' post office, I've made at it, in 7 minutes, and I was walking pretty fast."

Royal Mail says it may provide a reduced service nearby when Mr. Coe's post office shuts. If the couple win their case, its plan to close more branches across the country will be in doubt. The government told Channel 4 News it doesn't believe it.

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