With the rise of electronic payments across the UK and fewer people each month carrying cash on their person, public engagement with the homeless is lowest than it has ever been. Can contactless pay bring back the recognition Big Issue vendors are rapidly losing?
The Big Issue has announced it will be trialling contactless payment systems in an effort to boost the income of its homeless vendors and mitigate the effects of a public consciousness that may be shifting away from the importance of giving to the homeless.
The current affairs magazine has partnered with technology company iZettle for an 8-week trial across London, Bath, Birmingham, Bristol and Nottingham. If the plans are successful, they will be rolled out across the country.
Buyers of the Big Issue will no longer need to dig in their pockets for coins and cash, but will now be able to tap a card reader to pay for their copy. It’s a move that aims to better serve those who have difficulty accessing financial services and products offered by retail banks. In an increasingly cashless society that has left those who rely on street donations even more isolated than they were already, vendors of the magazine hope financial inclusion will come matched with greater social acceptance for the homeless.
Frank Derida, who sells the Big Issue outside Finchley Road Station, North London, said:
“A homeless person becomes totally invisible to society. Once you mention you have a homeless history, the council no longer think you exist. You lose all your housing benefits and you become totally invisible”
“For the Big Issue seller, [the council] don’t see it as a job. The contactless method could help save us. I think for the Big Issue vendors it’s a terrific idea because we have more assets for cash”.
The plans are in response to data collected by the Guardian this year which show a steep decline in cash payments, falling from 62% of transaction in the UK in 2006 to 40% last year. A further decline is anticipated with payments via cash dropping to 21% by 2026. Bank branches across the country have been closing as more and more people move away from cash-based spending and towards electronic banking.
Mr. Derida said:
“More often than not people are not carrying cash with them. Nobody carries a fiver with them even to get a cup of coffee. In a takeaway cafe it’s all contactless..”
“I think it would be a terrific thing because in most places it’s all digital now, [people] don’t carry money.”
“Even the big banks… they are trying to close down branches and branches, and within a few years, in the near future, I think [banking] will be totally obsolete. It will just be a number and a digit”
The plans have been met with scepticism by some vendors who are weary that operating a card reader means having a bank account under the terms of a fixed address. As a result the pilot scheme has been limited to 20 sellers and if it is to be expanded, the Big Issue will have to work with vendors and banks to help them open accounts.
Yet the initiative has been widely welcomed for embracing technological change and for supporting the micro-entrepreneurship of Big Issue vendors.