Financial Exclusion: Access to Cash — [Sir Henry Bellingham in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 21st May 2019.

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Photo of Seema Malhotra Seema Malhotra Labour/Co-operative, Feltham and Heston 9:30 am, 21st May 2019

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered financial exclusion and the future of access to cash.

It is an honour to serve under your chairship, Sir Henry. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting our request to hold the debate. I also thank the Access to Cash Review panel, Joe Fortune from the Co-op party, the RSA, Responsible Finance, Hounslow Council, UK Finance, the Payment Systems Regulator, the Treasury Committee Clerks, Visa, Mastercard, the Financial Inclusion Commission, Citizens Advice, the Money Advice Service, Age UK and many others for their help in preparing for the debate. I mention them as an indication of how widespread the concern is and how much of a contribution many stakeholders are making. I also declare an interest as a recent nominee to become a new commissioner on the Financial Inclusion Commission.

There is considerable interest in the debate, so I will try to keep my remarks to about 15 or 16 minutes. I will set out some of the context; where progress is being made, which we should recognise; opportunities that we should seize, including a particular mention for credit unions; and the importance of joining up to move forward together. I will also cover the potential for and importance of future legislation, which the Government have so far resisted and I am sure the Minister will mention.

As the map of stakeholders shows, access to cash is an important and complex issue that can no longer be primarily led by industry. We need a joined-up plan led by the Government that looks at the cost and effectiveness of our wholesale cash infrastructure, programmes for digital inclusion and incentives to diversify services based on complex customer needs. We need to ensure that those services can reach people, and that we both maintain free access to cash for those who need or choose cash as their method of payment and ensure that cash remains accepted.

There is clear cross-party interest, which the Chair of the Treasury Committee referred to in her recent correspondence with the Chancellor. That gives me hope and confidence that we are setting the right foundations for moving forward and addressing the challenges ahead.

Fundamentally, the bigger picture is inclusive economic growth and flexibility, security and choice in personal and family finance. Cuts to welfare, stagnant wages and economic instability in the last decade have exacerbated the precarious position of millions of people in the UK. The Money Advice Service estimates that 22% of UK adults have less than £100 in savings, which makes them highly vulnerable to a financial shock such as job loss or an unexpected bill. Some 8 million people rely on high-cost credit to pay essential household expenses, and may frequently turn to alternative forms of finance such as high-cost lenders or illegal loan sharks to make ends meet. Recent Financial Conduct Authority data shows that the number of high-cost short-term credit firms has decreased, but the volume of lending has increased.

Ten years ago, six in 10 transactions were made in cash, but by March 2019, that number had halved to three in 10. The combined number of banks and building societies is falling steadily, and in 2018, the number of free-to-use ATMs fell for the first time in 20 years.