Yet an independent Access to Cash Review into the future of cash in the UK found that more than eight million adults in Britain would seriously struggle to cope in a cashless society.
Natalie Ceeney, who led the review completed earlier this year, says: “We are in serious danger of sleepwalking into a cashless society and leaving millions behind.”
Cash is also still one of the most powerful ways of budgeting, she argues, saying: “You can’t overspend if you take out your money for the week and ensure that’s all you will use.”
The review found many charities, churches, social clubs and village fairs hadn’t got the time, money or confidence to invest in card readers to take small sums – and that in the many parts of the UK without a decent mobile signal, it was essential for taxi drivers, window cleaners or anyone working outside a fixed location to take cash payments.
Other reasons why people preferred cash included domestic abuse survivors who ‘squirrelled away’ cash from abusive partners who monitored their bank accounts; through to carers with a relative in the early stages of dementia using their cards to spend wildly.
Sweden has seen a headlong dash towards cashlessness in recent years. Banks stopped taking cash deposits or issuing cash, many shops said “Digital only”, and in 2018, both Ikea and the Swedish health service declared themselves cashless.
This led to public uproar, but by then Sweden’s cash infrastructure had largely gone. A political commission decided the use of cash should be a basic right after investigating how to protect people who still needed cash.
Although the amount of banknotes and coins in circulation in Sweden increased for the first time in more than a decade in 2018, this is thought to be a temporary and technical glitch. Since 2007, the value of cash in circulation has dropped by some 45 per cent – and it is thought Sweden could go cashless within four years. The UK seems certain to be a long way behind. As a spokesperson for RBS says: “While use of cash is declining, today it remains a principal payment method for a significant minority and plays a central role in financial inclusion. We foresee in future a less-cash society, as opposed to a cashless one.”