Mark Palmer

Mark Palmer

… on the consequences of a cashless society

With apps, money transfers and cards here to stay, our columnist considers the consequences of an increasingly cashless society in the UK today.

Admittedly, it’s not the biggest of my worries, but I do wonder how my grandchildren will get on when it comes to learning sums at school.

My generation – and those even older than me – were at an advantage because we had to deal with pounds, shillings and pence. This required some fairly complicated adding and subtracting, remembering that 12 pence made up a shilling and 20 shillings became a pound.

It all changed in 1965 of course. And now, well, money isn’t money any more. It can’t be when more and more places only let you pay for things by an app on your phone or with a piece of plastic or by bank transfer.

I raised this the other day with my children and their legitimate retort was that, just as my grandparents (and to a lesser extent my parents) were against moving to the metric system, it’s only to be expected that I rail against the dethronement of cash. Fair enough. But the vital difference is that the metric system made life easier for older people, whereas a cashless society makes life more complicated for them.


Why money isn’t money anymore

A cashless society is on its way to the UK, whether we like it or not, and that’s when millions of older people will feel as if the world is excluding them just a little bit more.

For what it’s worth, the number of cash machines in England has fallen 22% from 63,152 in 2018 to 49,152 this year. And, of those, many charge £1.50 to spit out your money. I rest my case.

On a recent visit to a store, I witnessed a comical but depressing spectacle that could almost have been a Monty Python sketch.

A man went up to pay for a toothbrush and two tubes of toothpaste, only to be told by the ‘cashier’ that this particular branch was not accepting cash.

“But I’ve got money and I want to buy things with it,” said the man, waving a £10 note.

“But we don’t take cash,” said the cashier.

“But I want to give you money in exchange for this toothbrush and toothpaste,” he replied

“It’s not the sort of money we take,” she said.

“But, surely, money is money,” he said.

There was only going to be one winner – and it wasn’t the man holding the toothbrush, not least because shops aren’t obliged to accept cash.

Sing a Song of Sixpence

Call me a fuddy-duddy (guilty as charged) but there was always something glamorous and intriguing about another country’s coins and bank notes rather than, now in Europe at least, everyone using the boring old euro. And I like the fact that the head of the King or Queen is visible on our currency.

Window cleaners, odd-job men (and women) and the like want to be paid in cash and so they should be. And, then, there are waiters, many of whom rely on tips and one is never sure that the 12.5% service charge ever reaches them.

Covid is partly to blame, when on health grounds shops began only to accept cards. Now, far too late in the day, the Treasury wants banks to make sure that the ‘vast majority’ of people have a free-to-use ATM or bank branch within three miles of where they live. Fines will be issued if they don’t do this.

Dream on. That’s never going to happen – just as there might be some people who would like to return to pounds, shillings and pence.

I’m not one of them but when I read my grandchildren Sing a Song of Sixpence and get to the bit where ‘the king was in his counting-house, counting out his money’, I realise that it doesn’t mean much to them.

Mark Palmer

Written by Mark Palmer