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Latest UKIP Press Release on the "Cashless Society".

UKIP is an unashamedly libertarian party.  Everything we are about is the freedom of the individual. UKIP rejects the “cashless society”. Everyone has a right to decide whether to use cash or electronic payments. UKIP would protect the public interest by facilitating the use of cash and cheques, and we want to ensure continuing service provision by the big UK banks and building societies at the local level. We believe that there is strong public demand for bank branches to remain open to service cash transactions and we give our full support to the continuing use of cash.

In the 1980s, almost anyone could easily get to a local bank or building society branch in virtually every town and small village across the UK.  It was easy to pay-in or withdraw notes and coins, deposit paper cheques and meet local bank staff face-to-face. Online banking did not exist, and neither did the internet. Since then, banks and building societies have closed down many branches. They have now more or less disappeared in all but the largest and most prosperous communities. These shocking closures (to allegedly “improve” the service) have left many people with no local bank branch. Branches have closed first in the poorer or more deprived areas, which are least profitable for the banks, while the last to go are those situated in wealthier neighbourhoods.  Banks have often closed their branches, despite continuing public demand, or, despite the impact that this has had on the area or the local public and business community. Closures mostly occur in towns and villages with large numbers of poor or elderly people, many of whom feel uncomfortable using credit and debit cards or paying for goods and services online.

Banks prefer to replace physical branches with online and mobile banking services because they are cheaper to operate, but a “cashless society” would further exclude the already disadvantaged; e.g., the homeless, the elderly, those living where broadband is unreliable or non-existent and those who do not use a mobile device or a computer.  Already customers often need to travel long distances to their bank to draw out and pay in their cash and cheques. Customer service is rarely face-to-face but is usually only possible by talking to an automated menu on a phone line, which wastes a lot of time and frequently offers a stressful experience.

The elimination of cash would erode the last vestiges of privacy. Customers would not even be able to buy a packet of chewing gum without creating an electronic record in a database. The database would then bombard them with targeted advertising and track their every movement. Furthermore, in a cashless society, the government would be able at any time to introduce negative interest rates, confiscate everyone’s assets on a whim, or introduce Chinese-style restrictions on the use of money for those who were not “obedient”. There would be no way to keep a safety cushion under the mattress, and people would have no other choice than to keep all their savings in the banks. Small local charity events and good causes would suffer too. For example, the local WI cake sale would not be viable if organisers are unable to accept notes or coins. Fetes and street stalls would be problematic, as would most private initiatives where people sell their unwanted stuff for charity and small private fund-raising events, such as raffles and car-boot sales.   

These trends are set to continue. The major banks want us to believe that branch closures are a response to declining public demand for local bank services and a move away from using cash as a means of doing business. UKIP foresees a backlash against the so-called “cashless society”. Paying by plastic divulges personal details, every hour of every day. Surveillance would potentially make everyone whose views the establishment does not like, a target for political discrimination.  This could become a totalitarian nightmare affecting everyone.  Nobody would have any privacy.  The establishment, the big banks, and the big IT companies would know everything about our spending habits and would have total control.

UKIP believes that the “cashless society” has huge potential to destroy what few freedoms remain. So maybe, as libertarians, we should resolve to pay only by cash on Fridays. That would be just one day each week, when we take a stand to show that we care about our freedom and tell “big business” to stay out of our lives.

Steve Grimes

UKIP Spokesman - Finance & Markets