Decline in cash usage ad cash machines could be ‘disastrous’ to rural areas, MPs hear

THE UK Government must make it “absolutely clear” that cash should still be accepted in stores or start providing help to those who cannot use other payment methods.

Several MPs have raised concern about the dwindling use of physical cash during the pandemic and it’s acceleration of the country into becoming a “cashless society”.

Others, including those representing remote Scottish constituencies, said cash and cash machines were vital to their constituencies and would have severe consequences if no longer accepted.

A debate, organised by Scottish Conservative MP David Mundell, heard from dozens of MPs who told of the decline in cash machines and the acceptance of cash in their constituencies.

Mr Mundell has also urged the Government to step in and take action now, before the country stops using cash inadvertently.

He explained that there had been a “false perception” that Covid-19 could be spread on coins and notes, adding: “There is no doubt that part of the issue is the false perception that cash has not been safe to use during the pandemic.

“In my view, some have seized on that perception as an excuse to go cashless for their own purposes. In any event, it is just not true.

“As far back as April, the Bank for International Settlements advised that the risk of transmitting Covid-19 via banknotes was low when compared with credit card terminals or pin pads. That view is shared by the Bank of England, which found that ‘the survival of virus on banknotes is no greater—indeed appears potentially less—than on reference surfaces representative of the many surfaces that people may come into contact with in their routine life.’”

Mr Mundell, former Secretary of State for Scotland said there were fewer cash machines in his “1700 square mile” constituency “than can be found on or just off Victoria Street, a few moments from here.” Adding: “That imbalance is plain wrong and the industry must correct that.”

Labour MP Yvonne Fovargue said that going completely cashless would have an impact on people who do not have bank accounts, bank cards or have problems budgeting.

She explained: “For an increasing number of people shopping online, using contactless payments and digital transfers, internet shopping is a boon, but it can increase the opportunity to scammers and fraudsters, and there are people who worry about using digital methods of payment and would prefer to keep cash. Many people have no bank account or credit card. They find budgeting far easier with notes and coins.”

Ms Fovargue added that “many” of her constituents were relying on cash for budgeting.

She said: “Many of my constituents are going back to those days. I can remember my mother having a little pocket for each bill—that is the way not to get into an overdraft. It has always been thus for people on lower incomes.

“Even with Covid-19, people in deprived areas continue to rely on cash more than those in wealthier areas. Research shows a clear connection between deprivation and cash usage.”

Jamie Stone, Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross added that electronic payment methods can be vulnerable, particularly in remote areas.

He said that cash machines “absolutely underpin” his constituency, and added: “Some years ago there were huge gales in the north of Scotland and the electricity went out—not for a few hours, not for a day, but for three, four or even five days in some communities in my present constituency.

“That meant, of course, that the cash machine did not work, and neither did contactless, so it is worth remembering that the present electronic regime is vulnerable to an electricity failure.”

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