Purely from my own observations living in London, it would seem that contactless payments have become the new norm for many business owners and consumers. London markets, by and large, do not accept cash payments, cafes, shops and restaurants publicising that they are card-only. Data by Square suggests that this is a trend that is reciprocated nationally in all regions of the UK with a 288% increase in cashless businesses between July 2019 and January 2020. It would seem that the slow drift towards a cashless society has received a jet engine and wings and accelerated significantly as a result of the pandemic encouraging individuals to minimise all contact with people. This trend may also be replicated in terms of the general use of paper also meaning that it may be indicative of a shift to a paperless world which will have immediate benefits for environmental preservation purposes.
The prospect of a cashless society being accelerated by COVID-19 may have benefits such as lowering the level of tax avoidance and tax evasion ultimately leading to an increase in government revenue that can be repurposed for public goods provision for example. Also, the cost of Britain’s Cash Infrastructure was also estimated at being roughly ¬£5 billion p/a, both of these factors suggest a significant increase in government revenue.
However, though a cashless society may seem attractive, its acceleration is, in fact, problematic as it gives little time for people to adjust and will disproportionately impact those that are not financially stable and rely on cash to pay expenses. It will also impact on individuals who largely rely on tips such as those in the hospitality industry as well as the relatively large homeless population of the UK. Where a slow drift towards a digital society was welcome, COVID-19 has accelerated it.