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Cashless Wales excludes people with learning disabilities

Published 21/06/2024   |   Last Updated 21/06/2024   |   Reading Time minutes

People with learning disabilities are being excluded from daily activities such as shopping by businesses who only accept card payments, according to a Senedd Committee. 

Today, as part of Learning Disabilities Week (17-23 June), the Petitions Committee launches a new report calling on the Welsh Government to do more to ensure that people who want to use cash can do so. 

The Committee is calling on the Welsh Government to guarantee that all organisations which receive public funding are required to accept cash payments. 

Excluding vulnerable people 

With more and more businesses now going cashless, this has a knock-on effect where people with learning disabilities who don’t have credit or debit cards have been unable to purchase items. 

Janet Jones gave evidence to the Committee about supporting Steven McGee, who has a learning disability.  

She said, “Steven is very sociable and likes to go to coffee shops and likes to pay with his own money. But we’ve gone into places before where he’s ordered coffee only to be told ‘it’s card only’. It takes that social aspect away from someone like Steven and makes him upset.” 

Fewer banks on the high street 

The Committee’s report found that one of the main reasons that businesses move to cashless payments is that in many areas there are no high-street banks to deposit cash locally.  

A UK Parliament inquiry found that the number of high-street banks in Wales has reduced by 40% from 2012. 

Mencap Cymru’s petition on the Senedd website collected over 2,500 signatures, prompting the Committee to launch the inquiry to look at the issue in more detail. 

Wayne Crocker, Director of Mencap Cymru, said: “Mencap Cymru created this petition to the Senedd Petition's committee as we were concerned with the increasing exclusion of people with a learning disability because of their lack of access to digital forms of payment.  

“We were especially concerned that public bodies, which have a duty to act in a non-discriminatory way, such as Welsh Government and local government aren't by accident discriminating by funding organisations to discriminate against people with a learning disability by refusing to take cash.” 

“Mencap Cymru's members and people we support are telling us that it is becoming more and more difficult to access their local community venues such as shops, cafes, arts & leisure venues as they are not able to pay by card.   

“Whilst we recognise that many of the issues facing access to cash are not devolved, we welcome and support the recommendations of the Petitions Committee inquiry and urge the Welsh Government to work with disabled people and the organisations who support them to address the recommendations in the report and ensure that this insidious form of exclusion is reversed and people who are unable to access digital payment are not further excluded from Welsh society.” 

Unintended consequences 

The Committee also recommends clearer signage in businesses that don’t accept cash payments to reduce some of the embarrassing and upsetting experiences faced by people with learning disabilities when they have been told that they cannot pay with cash and must leave the premises.  

On one occasion, the Committee was told, the police were called in response to an individual becoming distressed when they were not allowed to purchase a magazine using cash.    

Jack Sargeant MS, Chair of the Petitions Committee, said: “We have all noticed the shift to cashless transactions in recent years, but what is less obvious is the unintended consequences of this. It’s clear that refusing cash payments excludes people with learning disabilities  from accessing services and buying goods.  

“We believe that the Welsh Government should ensure that, if an organization receives public money, they should be able process cash payments from members of the public. 

“From speaking to businesses, the move towards cashless transactions has been driven by big banks closing branches, meaning many traders find it easier to not accept cash at all.   

“I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who gave evidence to the Committee who spoke of upsetting experiences of being unable to pay with cash. This Committee gives people the opportunity to raise issues that are not discussed very often, so I’d like to thank Mencap Cymru for bringing this matter to our attention.”  

The Welsh Government should also commission research to explore the challenges faced by people who do not use digital payments, according to the Committee. 

In addition to people with learning disabilities, this should also include people who have no bank account or those who choose to only use cash to avoid falling into debt.  

The Welsh Government is expected to formally respond to the Petition Committee’s report in early August.