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Georgia L. Gilholy: We cannot permit a cashless society.

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Georgia L Gilholy is a Young Voices UK contributor.

Just hours before the world learned of Her Late Majesty Elizabeth II’s passing, Liz Truss announced what may well amount to the biggest peacetime spending shake-up of all time.

Whatever impact the as-yet-uncosted-package eventually has, with wholesale energy prices rocketing and the pound through the floor, it is clear that tough times are ahead for many British consumers.

Thus now, more than ever, the Government must act to protect the most vulnerable and immediately propose a ban on firms introducing cashless services.

The move to an entirely cashless society would largely serve big businesses eager for people to spend faster and more, and not much else.

Small or rural enterprises – like, say, a shoebox cafe in the middle of the Yorkshire Dales – may not have reliable access to WiFi. Cash-only impositions will likely inconvenience them, and customers, when both are already scrambling to make ends meet.

While many of us enjoy the convenience of quick transactions, is it really worth the risk of so many moral and practical drawbacks just to receive a service a few seconds quicker than otherwise?

A surge of businesses went cashless during the height of the Coronavirus panic, purely because arguments about “germy” money were doing the rounds. This lazy logic ignores the fact that half the world we interact with is coated with some degree of dirt, and that the priority should be maintaining our own personal hygiene, by washing hands before eating or after arriving home, rather than expecting the world to magically become filth-free.

Mark Scott, director of payday loan broker Swift Money, is adamant that a cashless world will pull down crime rates. He stated in a blog post on the firm’s site that: “Numerous studies have shown that going cashless reduces crime rates significantly,” arguing that “the rate of crimes like bank robberies, burglaries, extortion, and corruption decline significantly” when there is a reduction in tangible cash supplies.

Scott seems to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of financial crime, which is already catching up with – if not outpacing – technological change.

Cybercrime is estimated to have resulted in damages of up to $6 trillion USD globally across 2021 — making it the world’s third-largest economy following the US and China.

Cashlessness also means that every miniscule transaction made can be tracked by banks, businesses, the state, or other users on joint accounts.

This is a matter of concern for any of us who favor liberty, but it can be the choice between survival or death for some. People who fear abuse at the hands of state or private actors, such as human trafficking victims, or people suffering violence or harassment will have less chance of escape if they know any attempt to spend money could be monitored.

A cashless world would also be one in which children would no longer be able to enjoy the simple pleasure of pocket money or keeping the change after popping to the corner shop for mum or dad, because nothing without a microchip will buy them anything. A cash-free existence means you have no option but to participate in a system that might dampen your childhood fun at best, and endanger your safety at worst.

There is also the issue of some people’s relationship with technology. Many elderly or traditionally-minded people simply prefer to deal with hard cash after a lifetime of doing so. Why should this section of society be forced to use a debit card because Fulham Felicity wants to get her oat milk latte 0.5 seconds faster than if the customer before her wanted to part with a £10 note?

Many people also benefit financially from the physical reminder of their money supply in order to maintain sensible spending habits. I recently came across a YouTube video where one young woman said she felt more able to spend her budget on healthier products if she could take a limited supply of cash with her to shop, as to avoid unnecessary splurges on junk food.

Only yesterday, a guest told BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour that placing her bank cards in her family’s possession, who in turn allowed her necessary portions of cash, helped her recover from a crippling online gambling addiction that left her with £50,000 of debt.

Healthy societies are keen to balance the needs of the vulnerable, the ordinary, and the elites, and a creep towards cashlessness would plainly further degrade the first two while providing a negligible bonus to the latter.

It is also likely that the creep towards a cash-free existence is against public opinion. While no reliable up-to-date polling on nationwide opinion has been released, a 2020 reader poll by local media source Peterborough Matters found that 70 per cent of respondents thought a balance of both card and cash payments were needed.

A report published by the Royal Society of Arts in March also found that 19 per cent of Brits would “struggle to cope” if they could no longer make payments with notes or coins.

While no one would accuse Liz Truss of having an empty in-tray, making sure already bloated corporations are not permitted to eliminate cash payments by stealth would be a sensible step in the right direction.

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