Jingle of coins and rustle of banknotes: noises of the past?

By Hal Williams

IT’S A CONFUSING time for cash in Britain — maybe even crunch time in the run-up to the Budget.

The roll-out of limited edition 50p coins — celebrating subjects as diverse as Paddington Bear and Brexit — and a new £20 note featuring the face of artist JMW Turner have been making modest headlines on business pages.

But the bigger story is in the possible — even probable —demise of cash itself.

As countries such as Sweden move to cashless models, British cash campaigners are calling on chancellor Rishi Sunak to protect banknotes and coins in an era of digitalisation.

Sunak will deliver his first Budget on March 11, and concerned citizens are urging him to consider the fact that without protection, cash could become extinct.

The Treasury has said it intends to ensure ongoing access to cash, still used for everything from buying sweets to paying household bills. The Financial Inclusion Commission estimates that two million UK residents don’t have bank accounts and rely on cash.

But in 2019, more than 10 percent of Britain’s ATMs were closed, and charges imposed for some cash withdrawals. Barclays Bank recently announced plans to restrict the Post Office cash access service for its customers (a decision since reversed and put on hold for a three-year period).

The BBC reports there were 11 billion cash payments in the UK in 2018. That figure is expected to drop to below four billion in coming years, with coins and banknotes expected to account for just one-tenth of all payments.

There is a growing chorus of protest calling on the government to back protective regulation, and demanding that banks honour cash access for customers.

Could the jingle of coins in our pockets become a thing of the past…?