How Covid is helping give cash the red card – and making life tough for some

Lockdown has been incredibly difficult, and one group of people who found it tougher than most were the region’s Big Issue magazine sellers, who have had to battle not only Covid-19 but also an increasingly ‘cashless’ society.

Newcastle was the first UK city to see Big Issue vendors equipped with card payment machines, in response to the pandemic. The innovation made the local TV news, seen here being filmed outside Newcastle train station.

“Personally, I can’t remember – like many people, I suspect – the last time I had cash in my pocket.”

– Big Issue digital producer Laura Dunlop

 

EVEN before the virus, the UK was well on the way to becoming a cashless economy,

According to a pre-pandemic report titled ‘UK Payment Markets Summary 2020’, by UK Finance.org.uk – a banking lobby group – of 40billion UK transactions during 2019, only 15% involved cash payments.

Of the rest, the report said 67% were made by card (51% PIN-authorised, 16% contactless) and the remaining 18% of transactions involved bank standing orders and direct debit payments.

According to information from World Pay, 2021 is expected to see the gulf between cash and digital payments widen considerably further.

But that was 2020, and since then Covid-19 appears to have turbo-charged the decline of cash, with those relying on cash transactions – such as Big Issue street sellers – set to be hardest-hit.

“It’s been really, really rough for our vendors,” said Laura Kelly Dunlop, digital producer of The Big Issue. “We needed a massive push in sales. This was even more important, now that very few people are carrying cash.

“Personally, I can’t remember – like many people, I suspect – the last time I had cash in my pocket.”

Laura Kelly Dunlop, digital producer of The Big Issue magazine.

According to World Pay information, 2021 is expected to see the gulf between cash and digital payments widen considerably further.

 

When the UK was in the most stringent period of lockdown, Big Issue vendors saw their incomes drop off a cliff. Many of them across the country – among a workforce of around 1,500 people nationally – saw four months of virtually zero income.

Each vendor receives 50 per cent of sales revenue, and the weekly magazine’s price was raised from £3 to £4 in an attempt to make up Covid-related shortfalls, before the Big Issue launched two initiatives to counter the move away from cash.

First, subscriptions over three to 12 months were introduced, payable via direct debit, then vendors were given contactless payment machines to allow them to take card payments.

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