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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:22 am on 21st May 2019.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 10:22 am, 21st May 2019

I, too, congratulate Seema Malhotra on introducing the debate and setting the scene. Building a relationship with staff enables trust to be built, and with that comes a better working relationship. Although I am obviously of an older generation, I understand that it is a lot simpler for my staff to log on to online banking on their lunch and pay their credit card bill than to spend their entire lunch in the queue at the bank. That leads to better working relationships between employer and employees.

Notably, although the bank is still busy, it is not failing or empty. There are always queues in my local branch, because its presence is necessary. There is a need for the ease that online provides, but there is an equal need for a bank on the high street to service people. That is the argument for retaining cash in our society. Technology is great for those who do not want to use cash, but not so great for those who cannot use that technology, as hon. Members have mentioned.

An estimated 17% of the UK population—more than 8 million adults—would struggle to cope in a cashless society. A decade ago, six out of 10 transactions were cash; now it is three in 10. On a number of occasions in my constituency there has been a glitch in the car parking payment system. Such glitches mean that a 30p payment can lead to a £45 fine in the post that is impossible to query, as other payments are supposedly logged as successful. There is a fear among an older generation that if they cannot see or touch something, they cannot really have it.

I have also heard from several shop workers who have had to chase customers after their card payment did not go through due to connection errors. Those are things that happen every day, and are real issues with cashless options. They show that we are nowhere close to being able to do away with money. People want it all. For me, that does not mean that we should do away with cash; we should embrace all payment methods. I hear the banks crowing about how online banking is thriving, but sometimes signs tell us that we cannot lift money in a bank unless the cash machine is broken, or that there is a charge for paying a bill in the bank that can be paid for free online. Many such things annoy people, pushing them away from frontline banking and cash.

Hailing from a mixed urban and rural constituency, I fear that we are leaving behind too many isolated people who cannot rely on technology and an internet connection. Some 60 bank branches and 250 ATMs across the UK close per month. The Countryside Alliance has suggested that the regulator take action to stop further closures of ATMs, that an access to banking protocol be introduced so that when a branch moves customers are made aware of the banking services at the nearest post office, and that the Post Office and banks standardise the banking services over the post office counter.

The move towards a cashless society risks creating vulnerable customers and exacerbating financial exclusion among those who cannot access those services. We have a duty to ensure that both forms of payment and transaction are available. If that means Government intervention, I believe that that is what we must do.