Behind those apologetic ‘at this time we can only accept card payments’ notices, we are being strong-armed into a dystopian world where customers and merchants who value their independence and want to support their local communities will be the losers.
The cash-free transaction push piggy-backed on the initial fear that cash could be a super-spreader of covid. This proved to be baseless, yet our ability to use cash remains severely curtailed.
I want to be served by a human being who offers the choice of cash or card payment. I never willingly use a self-service till because, you may consider this old-fashioned, I value social interaction while food shopping.
Forced to get out my card, I can usually rely on the bank honouring my payments, but what about those who can’t?
When I worked undercover as a checkout operator while researching my book Shopped: The shocking power of British supermarkets, I saw a number of shoppers, usually young women with small children, who counted out a mixture of notes and coins, then vouchers, and who asked for regular sub-totals, anxious that they wouldn’t have enough to pay.
Think of those who are housebound. They rely on carers to do their shopping for them, but carers aren’t allowed to use a client’s bank card. Cash is the sole means of payment if a customer can’t manage the technology of internet shopping.
Traders who won’t accept cash are self-harming. They must pay the added cost of each card transaction fee – anything from 1.5% to 3.5% – as well as having to buy or rent the card machine. That means less money in the vendor’s pocket, the enrichment of some faceless financial processing company, and a net economic loss for the local community.
Card payments are dogged by WiFi problems. On several occasions I’ve seen the relief on shopkeepers’ faces when the card machine is playing up and I’ve been able to offer them crisp notes from my purse.
Cash is indispensable, a great leveller. Those urging us to scrap it for an electronic option, such as Rishi Sunak’s CBDC (central bank digital currency), are either naive or driven by an anti-human agenda.