The media’s recent obsession with Nigel Farage’s banking arrangements is a parable for our times.
The government was swift to join in the condemnation of Coutts’ actions, to tell banks they can’t close the accounts of certain people (rich people) and must protect ‘free speech’.
That’s the same government that has refused to stop banks closing high street branches and protect elderly and vulnerable customers’ access to their cash.
Hundreds of local branches have been closed in recent years, with hundreds more closures to come.
Barclays will shut at least 146 of its bank branches throughout 2023 and 2024 – nearly a third of its entire UK network – and most remaining ones will have reduced opening hours.
These include the Hemsworth branch, set to close on 15 September.
I raised the plight of my 88-year-old constituent during a media interview and in the House of Commons. He’s nearly blind and relies on the friendly staff at the branch to help him with his banking needs. He’s no idea what he will do when it closes.
Meanwhile there are around 1.1 million households in the UK who can’t even get a bank account, mainly due to debt and poverty.
So much for the right to a bank account that government ministers have been trumpeting in recent weeks.
When I tweeted about my constituent, Barclays were quick to respond that they were “committed to supporting” customers and that the Barnsley branch would remain open.
I responded. How is a pensioner with limited sight and mobility, and who cannot drive, supposed to get all the way to Barnsley? It’s two buses, with a ten-minute walk between bus stops, and takes one hour and 18 minutes.
Barclays has made £3.1 billion in profits in the last six months and handed out £1.2 billion in bonuses last year. The CEO’s total yearly salary and bonuses combined is £5.2 million.
Yet they can’t even provide a basic service for their loyal customers.
The bank came back to me, calling my office to explain they intend to keep some sort of presence in Hemsworth, though it remains unclear what form that will take.
There’s been talk of van services and pop-up locations in some areas, but these won’t have cash or counter services, so managing money there won’t be possible.
And their suggestion that customers use Post Office branches to do some of their banking just doesn’t work for those who need extra help. It’s simply not acceptable.
In any case, Post Office branches are also closing, or are little more than a counter in the corner of a corner shop, weighing parcels and selling stamps.
All of this only reinforces the remoteness of the banks. They’re trying to protect their reputation while closing operations in working class towns.
It’s a classic example of Big Capital deserting communities and then laying responsibility on individuals.
When financial institutions press ahead with online banking as a model for all, the challenges of access to digital services for the most vulnerable in our society cannot be ignored.
This article was first published by the Wakefield Express