Post Office begins #SaveOurCash campaign, supported by Age Concern, as fears grow about moving to a cashless society after the coronavirus pandemic
More than eight million people and businesses would struggle to survive in a society that doesn't use cash.
That's the verdict from the Post Office, which has expressed its concern about the risk of the UK steadily moving to a cashless society as the country emerges from the pandemic.
In launching a Save Our Cash campaign, it says accessing cash is becoming 'increasingly difficult' for people and companies.
Since 2015 more than 4,000 bank branches have closed - that's at a rate of around 50 a month. While a further 500, says consumer group Which?, are earmarked for closure this year.
Cash use has been in decline for many years but the pandemic is believed to have accelerated trends. As fears grew about the potential to spread coronavirus germs on coins and notes, many shops and businesses stopped accepting physical money almost overnight last March - with recent figures from trade association UK Finance showing cash payments plunged by 35% last year.
Since then, in many instances, cashless payments or electronic money transfers have remained king, with the contactless card limit also set to increase to £100 from August.
But campaigners say that for many, moving to a society without cash in frequent circulation, would be extremely detrimental.
Gareth Shaw, head of money at Which?, explained: “The coronavirus outbreak has shown that cash remains vital to many consumers, particularly for vulnerable people who rely on it to pay for essential supplies.
“As a result, it’s vital that the already fragile cash system is not left to collapse completely as the UK’s shift to a cashless society accelerates."
The Post Office, which has a network of more than 11,500 branches, said its own research suggests that more than 70% of consumers believe cash is an important right and that cash provides many with a sense of safety and security and that without it they would feel excluded or find there are things they can no longer do.
A survey it also conducted with more than 500 small and medium sized businesses suggested two thirds of those felt cash was important to the recovery - with almost a quarter of firms saying their business would struggle without the ability to use cash and accept it.
Nick Read, chief executive at the Post Office, said: “Ensuring everyone in every community continues to have free access to cash is fundamental to the nation’s economic and social wellbeing.
"We cannot forget those across the country who continue to rely on it – from the millions of small businesses to ordinary people who use cash to budget, save and survive."
Age Concern is among the organisations supporting the Post Office campaign.
Last month it published details of its own investigations, which confirmed that many older people still rely heavily on cash, with some being completely dependent.
The charity says between 2017 and 2020 the number of free-to-use cash machines fell by almost a quarter.
The report added: "People need free access to cash where they live and shop as those with limited mobility or who lack transport will struggle with travelling greater distances.
"Being cut off from cash and banking services is therefore tantamount to being excluded from society, so maintaining access is vital."
Paragon Bank said in a survey of 2,000 of its customers, one in five admitted to using cash less frequently thanks to technology that made it easy to pay for goods using smart devices, including phones and watches.
But savings director Derek Sprawling said any move away from cash must pay close attention to those who would be most affected.
He said: “The concerns people have voiced about the impact of going cashless are very real factors that reflect that cash currently plays a vital role in communities. This has definitely also been highlighted during the pandemic – any move away from cash will likely be very gradual, and must be carefully managed to ensure no groups are negatively impacted.”
Through its campaign, the Post Office says it is calling on Government to speed up changes in the law to protect the future of the UK's cash system and that banks should be required, by law, to provide their customers with free access to cash and cash services irrespective of where they live or work.
It is also calling on as many people as possible to write to their MP urging them to support policies that protect cash or place an obligation on banks to guarantee access to it across the UK. Find out more on the SaveOurCash website.