Opinion piece by Fiona Grahame
My late father used to remark that the bus stops were always moving further away after any ‘improvements’ had taken place. This was indeed true and was also the case with his Post Office.
Dad used to be able to walk to his Post Office and located in the heart of the community it was also a good place to catch up with neighbours. Then it closed and he had to take a bus journey out of his local area to a much larger Post Office where you rarely met neighbours.
Job Centres now are on the move too, getting further and further away from those they are supposed to serve. People have to get a bus ( or two) there or walk if they cannot afford that. Taking them out of their community. Making accessing your rights even more of a problem especially if you need to go there to also go on the internet which you may not be able to afford to have at home. Online applications and signing in procedures that bit more difficult for those who have less to fall back on.
And statistics show that despite the well intentions and strategies of the Scottish Government that inequality in Scotland is getting worse. The Free Period initiative being piloted in Aberdeen and supported by the Scottish Government is much needed and a tiny step forward but the issue is that essential items for a woman’s hygiene and welfare are expensive and too costly for some women to purchase what they actually need.
Recently I was at a meeting discussing future transport needs and why we must move away from private cars. We should all be sharing cars or not using one at all it was being argued. So I thought back to when I was rather ill last summer and had to resort to phoning NHS 24 (that was a first for me). Like most folk I probably underestimated how ill I was so it was not the fault of the operator when they said I would need to get myself into the hospital to see the doctor who was now finishing their outside visits. The operator, of course, was not based in Orkney, had no knowledge of the locations he was dealing with and I agreed to travel into A & E. By this time I knew I needed to see a doctor whatever.
No taxis were available: there was an event happening that day and they would not be able to get me there for the time allocated. There are no buses where I live on a Sunday. I decided to drive in. That was tricky as I was by now very ill but needs must. I thought of that when the well intentioned healthy townies were discussing getting rid of private cars and wondered if they had ever waited at a bus stop when they were unwell.
Interestingly an hour later when I saw the doctor she had just come in from visiting the care home which was very near my home. Perhaps if the NHS 24 operator had known this I could have been saved that horrendous drive. And then the doctor received a phone call whilst I was being dealt with from NHS 24 asking her to attend a patient in Westray. That’s on another island she replied.
Increasing centralisation of our services be it call centres, Job Centres or Post Offices is harming those who are most in need in our communities, the most vulnerable and the most isolated. Individual schemes will work for a limited period but will fail to tackle the failures at the heart of our society where an increasing number of people are wedged into the ‘only just managing’ category. We’ve got these systems now that are so centralised that local knowledge is simply not there as the person on the end of the phone could be 100s of miles away from where you are with not a scoobies about islands and rural communities.
This is not an improvement. We are not progressing forwards. What we are doing is increasing that very real isolation physically, mentally and socially which means we will never deal with inequality in Scotland. The path we are currently on will merely harden the divisions in our society with a few short term initiatives giving respite to a few. It is a systems failure.
Scotland does not need to continue in this direction. We are not a nation geographically suited to the centralisation of our services and amenities. If we truly wish to develop a fairer more equal society then we have to think local and think community. Scotland can do this if the will is there to actually tackle our inequalities.
“The economics of giantism and automation is a leftover of nineteenth-century conditions and nineteenth-century thinking and it is totally incapable of solving any of the real problems of today. An entirely new system of thought is needed, a system based on attention to people, and not primarily attention to goods” E. F. Schumacher’ Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered