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Cashless society drive ‘damaging for rural Norfolk’

Rural communities across Norfolk are suffering from the rapid decline in the use of cash, councillors have warned.
Cashless Norfolk

Rural communities across Norfolk are suffering from the rapid decline in the use of cash, councillors have warned.

They believe the county may be particularly badly affected by the trend because so many people live in isolated areas ill-suited to support the switch to a cashless economy.

The issue was raised at a recent County Hall meeting which heard concerns that Norfolk was facing a “significant” problem because of its elderly population, poor broadband coverage, closure of market town banks, pockets of rural deprivation and a countryside economy still heavily reliant on cash.

Councillors said that the trend was creating a trap that could increase isolation for already vulnerable people and deepen rural poverty in many areas.

They have called for MPs to do more to protect the use of cash and for better infrastructure to support those still relying on it.

It comes just days after the Bishop of Norwich raised similar fears in the House of Lords when he said the closure of market town banks had “disadvantaged” sections of the community.

The UK has been at the forefront of the switch to a cashless society, a trend which was accelerated during the pandemic.

Experts say that by the start of the 2030s cash may account for just 6% of all payments. However, such forecasts are accompanied by warnings about the dangers for people who may suffer as a result.

This includes:

those on low incomes who use cash to manage weekly budgets.
people in rural areas relying on irregular, part-time work who are paid in cash.
Older people who usually prefer to carry money.
Those who struggle to get a bank account, for instance if they do not have a permanent address.

‘CASH IS ESSENTIAL’

At the recent County Hall meeting, Chris Dawson, Conservative councillor for Marshland South – Norfolk County Council’s member champion for the rural economy – said: “The loss of cash from our daily lives would have a significant impact on the people of Norfolk. While in no way wishing to arrest the march of progress, it is important to recognise that.

“Cash is essential, not only for many people who budget, but for those on lower incomes, the elderly and those with disabilities, who so often need the facility the most.

“Alongside this, cash can help support those experiencing domestic financial abuse and can provide an escape method from this exploitation.

“As the member champion for the rural economy, I should add further that many small
business operations rely on cash, be they outlets at sales and fairs or farm gate sales. And where would charitable collections be without cash?”

‘EXTREMELY WORRIED’

Other councillors recounted their own struggles, and those of businesses and charities.

Labour’s Terry Jermy said: “It’s something that residents comment to me all the time, frankly, about the march towards a cashless society and digital exclusion. We should be looking at things like credit unions across Norfolk.”

Steffan Aquarone, Liberal Democrat councillor, called for more banking hubs – where a rotating number of banking providers are based in high street buildings – to provide services.

His fellow Lib Dem councillor Tim Adams, pointed out that County Hall’s own cafeteria did not accept cash.

Conservative councillor Penny Carpenter said charities were being hit because people were not carrying so much change to give in donations.

And Conservative Bill Borrett said, given Norfolk’s patchy telephone and broadband reception, it was not always possible to pay with cards.

He said: “I was at the races the other day and there was not enough coverage for me to be able to buy a drink.

“The idea that cash should not be an integral part of our daily business is something I would be extremely worried about.”

The council, following a suggestion from Labour group leader Steve Morphew, agreed to ask one of its committees to come up with an action plan over the issue.

RAISED IN THE LORDS

The Right Rev Graham Usher, highlighted the problems in the House of Lords, when he said at least 12 bank branches in Norfolk had shut last year.

Bishop Graham said: “Banks are vital for small rural businesses and charities that deal with cash. Yet closures are accelerating, and this seems to be a pattern across the UK.

“The sad reality is that the withdrawal of banks from market towns has disadvantaged sections of our community, especially those who want to speak to a human and not a robot, those for who trust is a hard-won necessity, those with sensitive things to discuss and that group of people who are not savvy with the internet or have poor connectivity and so are digitally disfranchised.”

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