The Province: As London stores move from cash transactions, the poor pay the price

Posted June 1, 2020

It’s the poorest Londoners who are feeling the pinch from stores that are bypassing cash during the COVID-19 crisis for fear of spreading or contracting the deadly virus.
While it may be easier to limit currency to the debit or credit card variety, anti-poverty advocates say the most vulnerable population — many of whom rely on cash from panhandling or busking to feed themselves — will be one of the groups most affected by the practice.
Abe Oudshoorn, an advocate for the homeless, adds a large segment of London’s population known as “the unbanked” will also be affected.
About one million Canadian are excluded or underserved by banks, according to a recent survey by ACORN Canada, an organization of low-income families.
“You have a segment of the population where almost no one has access to banking and for that group, cashless is absolutely very difficult,” Oudshoorn said. “It is a huge challenge for folks. It’s one where we really need to solve it.”
Some businesses reopening with pandemic protocols in place have said they won’t accept cash for the time being, potentially accelerating what the Bank of Canada describes as a decade-long shift away from the banknote.
Cashiers at Longos, Best Buy and the Shoe Company, for instance, will refuse cash out of concern the bills are a vector for the novel coronavirus, according to The Canadian Press.
But several London-area stores unofficially surveyed by The London Free Press said they still accept cash, with one remarking they accept cash only if customers don’t any other means of paying.
Many stores have also ended the service of giving customers cash through their debit card transaction.
It is easy to see how a pandemic would lead to more emphasis on using credit and debit cards rather than cash due the way the virus is transmitted. But public health officials say the risk of catching the virus by exchanging cash is “very low.”
“There is still growing evidence on how people contract it, but the transfer of cash represents physical proximity between people so it may not be cash itself,” said Alex Summers, associate medical officer of health with Middlesex-London public health unit.
“It could be that in order to hand cash to somebody you have to end up being close. We’re still collecting evidence, but I think most of the evidence suggests it’s from close quarters with people who have symptoms.”
While many stores may be contemplating ending their relationship with cash, Jason McLinton, a vice-president at the Retail Council of Canada, said he doesn’t know of any retailers he represents who are refusing it.
“What we are recommending is because of the nature of the virus transmitted through droplets . . . whenever a touchless option is available, that is the preferred method. It lowers the risk,” he said.
“That being said there are people who don’t have access to touchless payments. The Retail Council of Canada is encouraging the use of touchless payment but also accepting cash.”
Most of their businesses have a dedicated payment station for cash, he said.
On Thursday the Bank of Canada issued a statement urging Canadians to use what payment method “they feel comfortable with.”
“The bank strongly advocates that retailers continue to accept cash to ensure Canadians have access to the goods and services they need,” it stated on its website. “Refusing cash purchases outright will put an undue burden on those who depend on cash and have limited payment options.”
Article by Heather Rivers for The Province


Sign up for ACORN's newsletter