Supporting vendors in a cashless society

Supporting vendors in a cashless society - 18/09/2020

In 2020 we are all so used to the speedy tap of a contactless card and the convenience of online payments. The switch to cash-free has exploded over the last decade, with the number of us paying in cash dwindling from 63% down to 34%. A straight-line projection based on this decrease would mean Britain becomes a fully cashless society by 2026. 

This decline in cash has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic whereby contactless has become a way of life as well as a necessary trend to prevent additional contacts that we are all doing our best to avoid during social distancing.

Many of us can appreciate the pros of going cashless; it is speedier, more convenient and lower contact; it reduces tax avoidance and crime; it makes it easier to track missing money etc. But for those of us who have financial difficulties, cognitive or physical disabilities, live in remote areas or are homeless, going cashless has a huge negative impact.

It was the effect of the move to cashless on Sheffield’s homeless and vulnerably housed population that motivated the team at the Sunday Centre in the city to take action. The Sunday Centre has been serving the homeless and vulnerable population of Sheffield for over 25 years, providing a hot two course lunch every Sunday to whoever needs one. The pandemic forced a short term closure, before the centre reopened providing grab bag lunches, with the team looking forward to a time when it is able to open safely and welcome guests again.

Big Issue North vendors rely on people having change in their pocket to buy the weekly magazine as a way of earning an income. When lockdown hit and people stayed at home, the vendors found themselves unable to sell the magazine, and no way to make a living. From June, vendors were provided with hand sanitiser and personal protective equipment, including visors, reusable face masks and gloves to enable them to start selling again, yet the issue of people no longer carrying cash still remained.

After a discussion between a Big Issue North vendor and a volunteer at the centre, The Sunday Centre team made a donation to cover 50% of the cost of four contactless card machines for Big Issue North vendors to use in the city. Often, vendors live lives affected by poverty, with difficulty accessing mainstream financial services and products typically offered by retail banks - having a contactless machine will make it easier for people to continue to support their local vendor in a safe, socially distanced way.

Steve Clark, Sunday Centre Chair explains, “we picked up from conversations our volunteers were having with Big Issue North vendors that times are tough for them at the moment. So many people are out without cash and relying on paying by card. The Sunday Centre has a lot of respect for the Big Issue North and the people who are out everyday working selling the magazine. We are really glad to be able to help and contribute towards the cost of card reading machines. We hope lots of people make use of them and buy a magazine from their local vendor.”

Ben Stevenson, Big Issue North team leader in Sheffield, commented, “the Big Issue North has been trying to support vendors to be able to take contactless payments for a number of years, to allow them to continue to be able to work to earn an income in an increasingly cashless society, and this was made more urgent by the need to move from lockdown to a return to selling in a safe a way as possible. The very generous donation from the Sunday Centre will enable a number of vendors to overcome the financial obstacle to being able to take contactless payments, and get back to supporting themselves after an extremely difficult few months. It is a further example of organisations working and communicating together to understand a person’s full circumstances, and how they can be best supported.”

Big Issue North vendors in Sheffield who have been issued with a contactless device to take payment will be identifiable by the contactless symbol on their bibs, similar to that we are used to seeing in shops and restaurants to indicate card payments.  By being identifiable in this way, it should be easy for people wishing to buy a magazine using their card to identify which vendor to approach. The contactless machine will stay with the vendor for as long as they work with Big Issue North. 

Sheffield services and charities have long adopted a partnership approach to working together, with regular multi-agency meetings ensuring that all parties are sharing up to date information about people who are sleeping rough and accessing homeless support services in the city. By working together on this initiative, sparked by a conversation between a volunteer and a vendor, the Sunday Centre is helping to support financial inclusion for vendors, providing them with a sustainable way of earning a living into the future, as we all adjust to the cashless normal.


Alison Wise, for Help us Help

Sept 2020


Read more about cash usage and the move to a cashless society from around the World, here: