I have long been campaigning on cash, the need for it to continue, to be accessible, available and inclusive. This was the subject of this evening’s show, obviously focussing specifically on the issue as it impacts blind and partially sighted people.
I was delighted in 2017 to work with the Bank of England on their accessible notes programme. We launched the accessible Ayrton in Parliament, the new plastic £10 note, featuring Jane Austen, had raised braille-like dots and lines on the note. The then Chief Cashier, Victoria Cleland, led the Bank’s work on the accessibility of notes and her legacy lives long as we saw the accessible £50 note launch earlier this year.
Similarly, talking cashpoints were an excellent example of inclusion. The TV ads starring Chris McCausland demonstrated how accessibility and inclusion could be brought to life and potential users through appropriate comedic means.
Now though, there is no doubt, cash is in crisis and it will be those who can afford it least who feel that crisis most, not least many blind and partially sighted people who rely on it.
It was for this reason and more that I put forward an amendment to the Financial Services Bill, to enable cashback without the need for a purchase. Fantastic that the Government accepted my amendment and it passed into law earlier this year.
It is clear to me that, though the future will be digital, we must ensure two things. First, that future must be accessible and inclusive for all. Second, as important, the transition to digital must also be inclusive and accessible. No one can be left out, cashless in the cold. Cash still matters and it matters materially to millions.
Covid has collapsed six years of cash decline into one. Over 6,000 ATMs gone, over 500 bank branches gone, more to follow. It is not only decline, it is also divide, with ATM transactions during the pandemic down over 80% in London and Glasgow but less than a quarter in Liverpool and Bradford.
The community access to cash pilots, currently underway and brilliantly led by Natalie Ceeney, are both a helpful intervention and are delivering early positive results. Competition law will need to be looked at if we are to be able to realize all the benefits of these pilots at scale.
We need cash to be seen and treated as Critical National Infrastructure, we need a Universal Service Obligation for cash. We need this for blind and partially sighted people, we need it for all people. I have raised this issue repeatedly in the Lords. As ever, if we make a change which benefits disabled people, it will benefit all people.
If not quite still king, we must hold tight to cash’s crown if we are to ensure financial inclusion and resilience in our financial system. Be it Covid build back, levelling up or UK wide inclusion, cash has a part, a critical part to play.
‘Cash machine at the till’ for withdrawals up to £50 coming to thousands of shops across the UK, City Am, December 1st 2021
UK Cash Infrastructure – Critical UK Infrastructure, Blog, July 19th 2021.
We can’t afford to let cash die a death, Times Red Box, May 26th 2021.