Britain is ‘sleepwalking’ into a cashless society that could exclude millions

The 'Access to Cash Review' warns that eight million people still use cash and could face financial exclusion if the UK goes completely cash-free too quickly

Financial exclusion and social isolation could skyrocket if society pivots towards going completely cashless without planning ahead, a new report has concluded.

The Access to Cash Review’s first report found that eight million people still consider cash to be an economic necessity after reviewing evidence from 120 organisations across the business world.

And that leaves them at risk of financial exclusion if the UK pivots towards a completely cashless society, risking leaving rural communities cut off as well as rising social isolation, debt, exploitation and stigma against those who rely on notes and coins.

Cash use has halved in the past 10 years, warns the review, and is forecasted to halve again in a decade while in 15 years just one in ten payments could be in cash. Debit cards already overtook cash as the most popular payment method for the first time in 2017.

“The decline in the use of cash has been dramatic, and with rapid technology development and adoption this trend will continue,” said Natalie Ceeney, independent chair of the Access to Cash Review. “But for millions of people in the UK, cash is not a choice, it’s a necessity.  If we don’t plan carefully for a world of lower cash, in other words, if we sleepwalk into a cashless society, millions of people will be left behind.”

The review also explores the benefits of digital technology and the pace of development, but highlights that not everyone is yet able to participate in a digital society. If the UK moves too fast towards being ‘cashless’ without including all parts of society, millions could be left behind.

DID YOU KNOW…

The Big Issue magazine is a social enterprise, a business that reinvests its profits in helping others who are homeless, at risk of homelessness, or whose lives are blighted by poverty.

The Big Issue is keeping pace with technological developments to ensure that vendors are not among those being left behind.

Up to 20 vendors across London, Bath, Birmingham, Bristol and Nottingham are currently offering contactless payments with iZettle card readers alongside regular cash payments in a trial before the technology is rolled out nationwide.

Easton Christian iZettle
Easton-Christian-iZettle
Easton Christian says that he has seen a "dip" in the number of customers carrying cash

“We have long-recognised that we are operating in an increasingly cashless society,” said Russell Blackman, managing director of The Big Issue. “Big Issue vendors are microentrepreneurs, effectively running their own small businesses, so understandably there are many who are keen to respond to market forces and offer their customers an alternative to cash.

“The partnership between iZettle and The Big Issue reflects our shared values and commitment to creating a more financially-inclusive society, supporting those whose lives have been blighted by poverty and a lack of opportunity.”

The Big Issue has also recently launched The Big Exchange and The Big View to combat financial exclusion.

Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert, has also spoken about the need to protect the financially vulnerable from technological advances. “Many, especially the more affluent and technologically savvy, now live mostly cashless lives,” he said. “We must learn lessons from the past. Take Directory Enquiries – technological changes saw demand drop, mainstream attention turned away, and prices rocketed – this left elderly and vulnerable who still access it ripped off. Access to cash is a far bigger issue.”

Image: iStock