This autumn we’re all feeling the cost of living crisis. But for those already on the margins with nothing left to cut the worry is all too real.
Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the ONS have highlighted shocking increases in numbers of people in poverty. And if people are financially excluded – struggling to make ends meet because of unemployment, insecure employment, low incomes or in debt – it can cost hundreds of pounds a year more to be poor than to be better off.
They pay more for essentials from food and energy to insurance and credit. And when you factor in digital exclusion, you start to see why this crisis is not a level playing field at all. When you’re not online, the best deals are out of sight. Finding work is an uphill struggle. Even seeing a GP is more complicated than it should be.
Fast-growing numbers of vendors are now cashless. Since we first introduced card readers in 2018, 1227 Big Issue vendors have been enabled to offer cashless sales.
Today 43 per cent of vendors are offering contactless payment by card reader or Zettle by PayPal’s new feature, Tap to Pay. And last month for the first time cashless vendors accounted for more than half of magazine sales.
Hugh Palmer was one of our earliest sellers to go cashless. Before he became a Big Issue vendor, Hugh worked as a sales manager for a clothing firm.
I’m offering a more modern approach, and I feel more professional
London Big Issue vendor Hugh Palmer
When the company went bust, Hugh was in his 60s and jobless. Despite qualifications in finance, without a steady salary to top up his small pension he went bankrupt the following year, and the effects of financial exclusion hit quickly.
“I have always had a bank account but after I went bankrupt I felt a bit out of it,” says Hugh, now 76, who sells at St Paul’s Underground in London. “I couldn’t have credit cards or obtain credit anywhere. I’d lost everything, I only owned what I stood up in.
“I tried to get a job in finance, but I was too old, no employer would take me on. My state pension just wasn’t enough to live on. I felt very low but realised I had to pull myself together.”
When Hugh began selling The Big Issue it was all notes and coins. But as society moved away from cash many vendors found they were losing sales.
Then, thanks to the card readers provided by Zettle by PayPal, being a Big Issue vendor would never be the same again.
Zettle by PayPal and The Big Issue
“Cashless payments changed the way we sell the magazine,” says Hugh. “I was one of the first vendors to get the card reader. My sales increased by about 30 per cent. Now I couldn’t do without it. I take about £300 or more a week. In years to come people will only pay by card.
“I’m finding that many people prefer to pay by card. Some shops now are card only – vendors have to accept that they will take less cash and more on cards, or sales will slump.”
Tap to Pay launched earlier this year. It lets small and micro businesses (like our vendors) accept contactless payments straight to Android mobile devices without any extra tech or fees. Sellers are able to take payments from physical cards and digital wallets on smartphones or connected watches.
“I started using Tap to Pay some months ago, it appeared on my app and I just tried it out. The card reader is now a back-up, and a signal to customers I accept contactless. Customers are very impressed.
“I’m offering a more modern approach and I feel more professional as a result.”
In the unfolding cost of living crisis it is essential that Big Issue vendors capture every sale by offering easy, safe and quick contactless payments.
During the pandemic, if we hadn’t had the card readers we just wouldn’t have made any money
Bath Big Issue vendor Ian Duff
For Bath vendor Ian Duff, a contactless card reader from Zettle by PayPal has been transformational. He was an early adopter – only the second UK vendor to offer cashless sales. But when Covid struck he saw how much of a game changer it would become. “During the pandemic, if we hadn’t had the card readers we just wouldn’t have made any money,” says Ian, 56.
“People were just using cards; a lot of shops weren’t even taking cash and most people just preferred to pay by contactless.”
Ian used to run pubs so was already comfortable with card payments, but there were still learning opportunities. The move to contactless was pivotal.
“When I first got the card reader you had to put your card and PIN physically into the machine, and people were dubious about doing that in the street with someone they didn’t know,” he says. “But contactless is a done deal.
“I’ve seen some vendors who were nervous about technology or didn’t have a bank account before, who you might think wouldn’t ever have moved away from cash sales, who are now offering cashless and managing very well.”
Vincent Belloc, Managing Director of PayPal UK, says: “Financial inclusion can draw more people into the fold of economic activity so they can make a better living. We’ve been proud supporters of Big Issue for years and, in the current economic climate, our joint commitment to creating a more financially inclusive society has never been more important.
“Enabling vendors to take contactless payments is an important step in our commitment to build a more inclusive, fair and transparent financial services system where everyone deserves a chance of a better life.”
Where to get help
If you’re struggling to get online, or know someone who is, there’s free help available from the Good Things Foundation charity, which is bidding to end the UK’s digital divide. Its Learn My Way service offers free courses to help people develop their digital skills, even if they’ve never been online before. To find out more click the link or call 0114 349 1666.
Your local vendor is at the sharp end of the cost-of-living crisis this Winter. Prices of energy and food are rising rapidly. As is the cost of rent. All at their highest rate in 40 years. Vendors are amongst the most vulnerable people affected. Support our vendors to earn as much as they can and give them a fighting chance this Winter.