Homelessness in a cashless society

Cash is well on its way to becoming obsolete. Fewer people than ever are carrying coins or notes in their pockets, with contactless and mobile payments all the rage.

In mid-2014 when Transport for London banned cash on buses, it was initially met with some passenger grievances. Now, with behaviours adjusted, most passengers have no qualms whatsoever with this set-up and embrace the speedier bus boarding process. It’s been beneficial for TFL too, who have saved £24m in cash handling costs. This is just one example of many illustrating our increasingly cashless society and how it’s become the accepted norm – and even celebrated.

So what about those that truly rely on cash for their existence? For the homeless, the idea of surviving without cash seems almost impossible as they’re mostly reliant on charitable cash donations from passers-by on the street. Often unable to open bank accounts without a permanent home address to provide to the bank and without access to technology such as mobile card readers, cash is their only option. They’re left out of the equation in a world where people increasingly no longer carry cash and are therefore less able to offer anything to those in need – not for lack of a generous spirit or wanting to do so. With homelessness in England up 59% since 2010, this is a potential crisis demanding attention.

In the UK, St Mungo’s and The Big Issue Foundation are at the forefront of the race to take action so those on the margins of society can be ready when a wholly cashless society becomes a reality. St Mungo’s has helped around three-quarters of their clients get set up with bank accounts, whilst The Big Issue Foundation has already started discussions with a number of banks and tech firms to work on a cashless payment system. They hope to eventually allow customers to pay for their magazine by tap-and-go technology. This aims to help reverse declining sales – a consequence partially attributed to the “I haven’t got any cash on me” response heard frequently by many vendors.

Situation Stockholm magazine – the Swedish equivalent of the Big Issue – has given their sellers iZettle card readers and since seen sales increase by 59%. In Sweden it is estimated that over 80% of all purchases are electronic and don’t involve cash – making it the country closest to total cash elimination.

Whilst we may embrace and applaud the ease and convenience of these advances, innovation is key within the charity sector to make sure we find ways to support the homeless to ensure they’re not left behind. Whether it’s charities following the Stockholm model and equipping those in need with iZettle devices, or collaboration with tech companies to find solutions that allow charitable giving through tap-and-go hot spots that then distributes the donations to the homeless in the local area – there’s undeniably a gap for some serious innovation.

Amy Cowpe

12.08.16