It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Henry. I congratulate my hon. Friend Seema Malhotra on securing this debate. It might seem counter-intuitive to suggest that access to cash is vital for financial inclusion, because everyone says the future is in FinTech, but my local authority did a survey two years ago to see how many people in Wigan use the internet regularly, and it found that 30% have never even accessed the internet. That is below the national average. Many who do not access the internet are on lower than average incomes or are disabled or old. Some 93% of those over 80 have never used internet banking, and we need to think about those people when we promote digital by default. It does not have be online and cashless.
Clearly those without internet access cannot bank online, but with the pace of bank closures, neither are they able to do it face-to-face. Not only are the physical branches going, but the ATMs are going, too. In Wigan, we lost one in nine cash machines in less than two years. Yes, that is the cashless society, but many prefer to use cash, particularly those on low incomes. If their income is tight, they need to be able to check every penny that passes through their hands, and cash is a tangible asset. People cannot go overdrawn with the money in their purse.
It is not just a few people who say it is important to have that access. A survey of more than 1,200 Which? members found four in five saying that access to the free-to-use network was important to their daily lives and for paying for goods and services. It found that removing free-to-use access would leave one in 10 struggling to make payments. We therefore have to question the closure of so many ATMs and bank branches. As Kirstene Hair said, we also need to ensure that shops and businesses remain cash-friendly and customers are not forced into paying by card.
There are many issues with paying by card. People do not always trust online transactions, and I congratulate the TSB on its fraud repay scheme, which creates more trust in financial services. Access to banking and financial services is at the heart of the inclusion and exclusion debate. We need to be careful not to be drawn into saying that FinTech will be a universal panacea. It is vital that consumers have the freedom to pay for goods and services however they choose. If we sleepwalk into becoming a cashless society, it will have grave consequences for our most vulnerable people. I am not anti-technology; we need to encourage people to face the future and to embrace the advantages of technology, but we should not run before we can walk. For the foreseeable future, cash and digital have to exist side by side and as complementary tools in increasing inclusion and improving people’s lives.