I sometimes think there’s a special relationship between postal workers and dustmen. We deliver the rubbish, they take it away again. We used to get paid per item for the junk mail we dropped through your letter box. These days we get a delivery supplement: a fixed amount per week no matter how many advertising leaflets we carry. The maximum we are allowed to deliver has also increased, to seven per household.
It’s the one thing I disagree with my union about. They say that this unaddressed mail – we call it ‘door-to-door’ – is necessary because it helps to pay my wages. I say I’d rather not be involved in delivering unwanted advertising to people who will throw it in the bin without a second glance.
There are better things we could be doing: the ‘Call and Check’ scheme developed in Jersey, for example. For the price of a special delivery letter, postal workers will knock on your door and have a brief chat, to make sure you’re all right. We can check if you’ve taken your medication, or find out if you need additional services, such as a lift to the shops, or someone to pop in for a visit. If you say yes, we’ll pass this information on to social services, the NHS or a local voluntary organisation.
We could also deliver repeat prescriptions, collect post on your behalf, remind you about hospital appointments, or supply information on available services. Postal workers would be required to go through a police check and given first aid training.
Call and Check visits can last from two to ten minutes, and the postie is supported by a customer service team, who liaise with the associated agencies and make sure that the information is co-ordinated between the different parties.
The scheme has been so successful in Jersey that, after a pilot in one area, it has been rolled out in many parts of the island. It is also being trialled in Finland, Iceland and Ireland and is being considered in the United States.
I’ve known since my early days as a postal worker that we are a lifeline for some people, albeit on a casual basis. I already collect mail for one 96-year-old and I’m always on the alert when I reach certain doors. Call and Check would formalise the arrangement and offer me the proper training and support.
It wouldn’t be hard to administer. We already put markers in our frames to show if there’s been a repeat complaint, or if someone has opted out of door-to-door. A card to remind us to call on a particular customer could be loaded into our frames on the appropriate days, with all the necessary information included.
Of course, such a scheme would involve the postal worker being responsible for a single round, which goes against the privatised Royal Mail’s philosophy of making us interchangeable cogs in a machine, who can be moved at a moment’s notice. It would make us what we used to be, valued and trusted members of the community, instead of the mere carrying devices for advertising that we’ve become.