Leviticus – Derek Simmons, 83, has to travel over an hour by car to his nearest post office to collect his pension after his local closed down after 130 years in business. With his eyesight failing, Simmons doesn’t know how many more months he’ll be able to independently collect his money and, when he mentioned this to staff at the post office, they said that he can sign a form to have the pension sent directly to his bank account – but Simmons doesn’t have a bank account, like many others of his age.
Paid cash-in-hand for all of his working life, Simmons never needed a bank account. He kept his money in the post office, he said, and paid his bills and taxes there too, including the rent for his small 2 bedroom terraced social housing. When he tried to set up a bank account by going to a bank located 20 minutes drive, he found it was a “staffless branch”, with machines allowing you to deposit or withdraw cash and cheques – but no option to set up an account, for that patrons are directed to “download an app”; Simmons does not have a smartphone.
Derek Simmons is just one example of someone who the National Associated for Aged Individuals (NAAI) says has been abandoned by the increasing digitalised world, one that is increasingly centralising in cities too, leaving rural pensioners more at risk. According to the NAAI’s Head of Safeguarding for the state of Terra Monticolarum, Maureen Hegarty, “you need a smartphone, you need a car, you need the internet to just exist in Sanctaria today, most of the individuals we represent don’t have those, or aren’t able to use them anymore”. Pointing to Simmons as an example, Hegarty said “Derek will in the next few months have to voluntarily give up his driving licence due to his eyesight. Then what? He’ll have no way to leave Leviticus to get his pension, he doesn’t have a smartphone to set up a bank account, and even if he did, his eyesight means he wouldn’t be able to use it effectively. He has no mode of transport, no way of receiving his money, and state-provided homecare only comes for a few hours a week. What is he to do?”
More cynical members of the NAAI suggest that both the federal and state governments are making it harder for them to live independently on purpose – “they want us to sell our homes to young couples, and then use that money to go into a home”, Elizabeth Castle, 78, claimed to this reporter. “It’s awful hard for people to buy houses these days, and there are lots of us old ones sitting all alone in 3 and 4 bedroom places. I understand, right enough, but it’s not fair forcing us into these decisions by making everything be on the internet and needing fancy phones and closing down village shops and post offices. It’s not right”.
Data from the Terra Monticolarum Ministry of Public Safety also suggests rural living for elderly Sanctarians is also becoming more dangerous. Last year saw a 15% rise in reports of burglary, with 3% of that aggravated, or violent. “Police across the state are stretched and are having to focus more on the big urban centres because they, naturally, have bigger population. There are no village police stations anymore, the Terra Monticularum State Police have responsibility for these small towns and villages, and the nearest one to Derek, for example, is 90 minutes away”, Hegarty explained. “So not only does he have to worry about financial and social independence, he has to worry about his safety too”.
Derek Simmons has even bigger problems now. He recently received a letter from his local council, from whom he leases his house, saying they are going “paperless” and to provide them with his email for further important communications and updates. He has never had an email in his life, does not own a computer and, like the local post office, the old village library recently shut down too. “It’s like I’m not wanted anymore. They want me to hurry up and die”, Derek sighed, defeatedly. Whoever “they” are, it’s hard not to sympathise – Sanctaria’s elderly population are facing new struggles that is making life in their twilight years unnecessarily challenging.
SOULLA WILDE, Features Correspondent