5.2. Supporting rural life and living
With 99% of the rural population within three miles of their nearest post office and more than half the branch network in rural locations.
Beyond simply fostering pride in rural communities, post offices, according to this research, were also found to be integral to supporting day-to-day life there. With 99% of the rural population within three miles of their nearest post office and more than half the branch network in rural locations, Post Office is available for, and accessible to, rural communities like no other retailer (Clark and Booth, 2022).
In fact, this research underscored the importance of this accessibility for rural communities and the estimated social value, with individuals living in rural areas using their local post office more often than their urban counterparts (41% using it once a month or more compared to 30% in urban areas). We also found that individuals living in rural areas were willing to pay more each month to maintain the Post Office network, compared to residents in urban areas (£11.98 vs. £10.99). This enriches the findings around the “last shop in the village” (Section 4.3) and confirms that those in rural communities are not only more likely to use a post office, but also more likely to value its role.
The importance of Post Office to rural communities is very likely to be due to the lack of convenient alternatives, as post offices are less likely to be surrounded by a wide variety of businesses in those areas. With the exception of bill payments and government services, those living in rural communities were less likely to have convenient alternatives available for all Post Office services. The convenient alternatives for those living in rural communities are also much less likely to be in person. The only exception to this was the provision of identity services, where rural and urban communities had similar results.
Cash and banking services are particularly important in rural areas. More than two in five of those in rural areas use these services at least once a year at a post 23 office (compared to nearly one in three in urban areas), while those in rural areas are far less likely to have convenient alternatives to post offices that currently offer these services (34% compared to 45%). In fact, those in rural areas are twice as likely as those in urban areas to depend on their local post office branch for cash and banking services (26% vs, 13%), according to a separate 2021 YouGov survey (conducted on behalf of Post Office).
Post Office’s role in supporting rural banking is likely to become even more prominent in the future, depending on how the rate of bank closures develops (as discussed in Section 3.3). In the 2021 YouGov survey, survey respondents from rural communities were found to be more likely to be concerned about bank branch closures (62% compared to 56% in urban areas), as well as to be more likely to be personally affected (37% compared to 31%) by the closures. Whilst this is an issue for many people around the country, the decline of high-street banks is particularly important for those in rural communities, which shows the crucial role that Post Office plays as a solution in those areas and why its continued support is needed.