20 pounds bank of england
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What was previously a steady and gradual disappearance of physical cash from our economy has been compounded and accelerated by Covid-19.   

With concerns about the hygiene of cash transactions, businesses and retailers have been encouraging the use of online or contactless payments. Many now decline to take cash altogether, with more than a third of shoppers having been refused at least once when trying to pay with cash since the first lockdown.  

Not only is cash being increasingly refused, it is also becoming alarmingly more difficult to access. A quarter of all cash machines now charge fees, with some charging as much as £2 to access your own money. 8,700 free cash machines have closed in the last two years, and with more and more bank branches closing, the issue is only getting worse.  

We have long been concerned about financial inclusion – in 2018, then Labour & Co-operative MP Ged Killen introduced a ten-minute rule bill banning ATM charges. And just last week, Shadow Chancellor and Co-operative MP Anneliese Dodds wrote to the Government calling on them to take action on this “uncontrolled retreat of cash” from our economy, and to urgently make good on their promise in last year’s Budget to introduce legislation to protect cash. 

Without a law to protect Access to Cash, it will be the most vulnerable in our society that suffer the most. Those without legal immigration status who can’t open a bank account. Domestic abuse victims whose bank transactions are closely monitored by their abusers. The elderly, 2.3 million of whom don’t have access to an internet connection for online banking. Those who live in rural or isolated communities. A recent survey found that over 10 million people in the UK are reliant on cash and would struggle to buy basic necessities without it.

Not only has this been made worse by the pandemic, but its impacts made more stark. It has been inspiring to see our communities come together in this difficult period, with people supporting elderly and vulnerable neighbours by delivering them food and other basic necessities. But at the same time, many of those shielding have struggled to pay neighbours and carers for these necessities because of an inability to access cash. 

The Chancellor promised legislation in last year’s Budget to protect cash, but since then we’ve seen a rapid decline in the use of and ability to access cash, without protection for those who rely on it. With this year’s Budget coming up on the 3rd March, the Chancellor needs to keep this promise by introducing a law to protect Access to Cash. Only that way can we prevent the most vulnerable being left behind.