As we are becoming more reliant on technology, particularly following the COVID19 pandemic, our societies have moved ever closer to becoming cashless. Those who are struck by poverty, without disposable funds, or who live in rural areas are often affected, having limited access to credit, smart devices and secure internet connections.
In the UK alone, pre-COVID statistics conducted by Ofcom shows a digital divide of 11% in 2020. These homes lacked internet access. However, this gap was reduced in 2021 to around 6%. Among these 6% who had no internet access, and of this, 37% indicated they lacked the digital equipment that would allow them to access the internet (Ofcom). While this is a small improvement on the previous year, this is still exclusionary of a large number of people in real terms, and does not account for additional people who cannot or do not have a bank account.
Some argue that the move to a cashless society may reduce inequality (Weforum). While this argument may be true in the long run, the shift to de-monetisation has historically seen some members of society to be left behind. Drawing lessons from Sweden (which has gradually been moving to a cashless society), the elderly, the poor, refugees and those living in rural areas have been recorded to face challenges in making and receiving payments.
This highlights the need for governments to focus on eliminating barriers to access to technology and to encourage the hybrid use of cash and non-cash payments until access to all has been secured. We encourage comments, and hope to begin a conversation on these issues in due course – please get in touch with us if you are interested!
Ofcom, ‘Digital Divide Narrowed by Pandemic but around 1.5 Million Homes Remain Offline’ <https://www.ofcom.org.uk/about-ofcom/latest/media/media-releases/2021/digital-divide-narrowed-but-around-1.5m-homes-offline> Accessed 17th October 2021.
Weforum, ‘Kenneth Rogoff: A Cashless Society Would Benefit the Poor’ <https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/01/kenneth-rogoff-a-cashless-society-would-benefit-the-poor> Accessed 17th October 2021.
CNBC, ‘People in Sweden barely use cash — and that’s sounding alarm bells for the country’s central bank’ <https://www.cnbc.com/2018/05/03/sweden-cashless-future-sounds-alarm-bells-for-the-central-bank.html> Accessed 17th October 2021.
Riskbank, ‘Payment in Sweden 2020’ <https://www.riksbank.se/en-gb/payments–cash/payments-in-sweden/payments-in-sweden-2020/1.-the-payment-market-is-being-digitalised/cash-free–not-problem-free/> Accessed 17th October 2021.