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Dangerous, cashless, exclusionary society

Do we really know how safe this is?

On the 27th October, the Chancellor announced the Budget. Whilst there was a focus on investment and ‘levelling up’, one has to wonder how much spending money constantly at a problem is more performative than anything else (just look at the NHS).

A reason why I think it could be performative, is how quickly cash has become irrelevant. This short timeline from FinTech and UK Finance emphasises the speed:

2007: Contactless payment started in Transport for London (TfL); spending capped at £10. Barclaycard were pioneers

2010: Contactless payment limit capped at £10

2011: Contactless by phone was launched

2012: People begin to be able to pay with contactless by their wearable technology, payment increased to £20

2014: Barclaycard work with TFL to introduce yellow oyster card readers (machines that enable passengers to use their contactless card)

2015: Spending limit increases to £30

2020: contactless increases to £45

2021: Contactless limit increases to £100.

On paper, this all looks fantastic because it is so convenient but there is a darker side to all this. This ranges from an increase in a production of data – makes it so much easier for big tech companies to really track us and keep an eye on our shopping habits, its also very ageist and as such, exclusionary. For months, we have been concerned about the introduction of vaccine passports with MPs like Steve Baker and David Davis highlighting how discriminatory they are, the likes of Adam Brooke indicating hospitality (which has already suffered enormously during the lockdowns) will be even more affected and Julia Hartley-Brewer picking up the slack for other journalists and actually questioning advocates of the vaccine passport, why they’re pushing for it.

Of course, what this relationship between being more dependent upon technology (specifically our mobile phones that are full of up-to-date technology) does, is just pushes elderly people even more out of society, and deeply affects those in the UK who are victims of the digital divide. An example of this, was a few months ago I was sat in a Café Nero down in Leicester, this was at a time when we were required to ‘check in’ whenever we entered a venue. An elderly couple came in and weren’t too sure what to do, and the staff members were the most unhelpful and the elderly couple left. This is probably just one example of how being required to ‘check in coupled with unhelpful staff members is the start of ignoring the most vulnerable in our society, surely after the pandemic there needs to be a proper emphasis on togetherness, no matter how old or young people maybe?

Digital Divide.

Building on this, with the idea of just how much worse we are as a society with the increase in our reliance upon technology. The digital divide is a reference to “the gap between demographics and regions that have access to modern information communications technology (ICT) and those who don’t or have restricted access.” And prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, research by the University of Cambridge found that 22% of the UK’s population lacked basic digital skills. One way this is highlighted, is through the reliance on cash, for example in County Durham the cash reliance score is 69% and in Oxford it plummets to 46% (latest data from August 2021), with the consumer group Which? Using data from Link found “8,000 ATMS have disappeared in the past 18 months.”

Nationalism and levelling up

But why is the use of cash still so important? CashMatters gives 10 key reasons from it ‘protecting privacy and freedom of choice’ to ‘satisfying a universal inherent need’ relating strongly to cultural unity. This cultural unity provided by cash gives a country a national identity- both notes and coins with a portrait of the Queen, commemorative coins from the 75th anniversary of VE Day, celebrations of the London Olympics and the anniversary of Peter Rabbit – to name a few.

Being proud of this country is something this Conservative Government have focused on, we’ve seen it in the trade deals – Britain making it on her own, post-Brexit – to everyone coming together in the fight against the Coronavirus. A brighter, more prosperous Britain is also in the works as the government are dedicated to levelling up, but I personally think and strongly believe, if we are heading towards a cash-less society (although I’d rather we didn’t); actually, investing in closing the digital divide should be at the heart of policy. In the meantime, spending cash should still be encouraged, I’m aware shops have signs saying ‘Card Only’ because of the fear of spreading Coronavirus, but surely methods of payment should be up to the discretion of the individual. After all, CashMatters has highlighted that cash ‘protects privacy’, not everything we purchase needs to be traced and monitored – enough of our data already exists at the fingertips of the highest bidder.

After all, if we’ve learnt anything, our reliance upon technology will continue to grow. However, this really does need to be executed with precaution as we will mistakenly exclude people from society for things they can’t really control - isn’t the way forward.

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