RICHARD LITTLEJOHN: Cost of contactless? Call it £2billion for cash

RICHARD LITTLEJOHN: Cost of contactless payments? Call it £2billion for cash… On top of soaring bills the dash from using notes and coins will hit you all the harder in the pocket

The cost of living continues to rocket and things are about to get worse. On top of soaring gas and electricity bills, and the controversial 1.25 per cent National Insurance hike, council tax is going up, too.

From today, the average Band D property will get a demand for more than £2,000 from their local authority.

Also today, the temporary cut in VAT to help the hospitality industry comes to an end. So the cost of eating out or drinking in the pub will rise significantly. Dishi Rishi’s Money For Nothing And Your Chips For Free bonanza is but a distant memory.

By the end of this year, we could be clobbered by double-digit inflation, the highest level since the dark days of the strike-prone early 1980s. Phone and broadband charges are also increasing. Whichever direction you look, prices are rising remorselessly.

Dishi Rishi’s Money For Nothing And Your Chips For Free bonanza is but a distant memory

It’s estimated that most families will find themselves at least £800 worse off this year. 

For once, that hoary old chestnut about people having to choose between heating and eating looks to have the ring of truth about it.

Goodness knows how councils can justify big tax increases. It’s not as if we get much for our money now. 

Everywhere they’ve pretty much abandoned proper road and pavement repairs, scrapped weekly rubbish collections and imposed extortionate charges for basic services such as taking away garden waste. Some of the streets in my neck of North London have got more craters than the main drag in Mariupol.

Councils are slapping heavy fines on hapless motorists who fall foul of the ‘temporary’ Low Traffic Neighbourhoods introduced during lockdown, which they have no intention of rescinding.

Town Hall staff, like the rest of the public sector, are still ‘working from home’ in their tens of thousands. 

Bank branches are closing and ATM hole-in-the-wall machines are being removed to force us to use plastic or e-payments via mobile phones

When I rang my local council a couple of weeks ago, a recorded message told me they weren’t answering the phone ‘due to Covid’, even though all restrictions were lifted in February.

Underlying all this is a cynical move away from cash, which makes it increasingly difficult to keep track of what anything costs these days. Bank branches are closing and ATM hole-in-the-wall machines are being removed to force us to use plastic or e-payments via mobile phones.

After turning their backs on cash during lockdown, despite the fact that you stood virtually no chance of catching Covid from coins or banknotes, some retailers are now refusing to accept it permanently.

Money Mail’s Fiona Parker was made to feel like a pariah when she tried to pay cash in stores. She also discovered that London Underground practically doubled the cost of her daily Tube ticket when she paid with folding.

Her report revealed that 11 million people are effectively being disenfranchised in the frantic dash from cash. The elderly and vulnerable folk on low incomes are being isolated and are at risk of falling into debt. That doesn’t surprise me in the least.

I have consistently maintained that the switch to electronic payment increasingly means that people have no idea how much anything costs any more.

For instance, pubs are probably banking on no one noticing that VAT has gone back up to 20 per from today. In my experience people simply waft their cards or phones at the terminal without bothering to look at what they are spending.

My ‘Eureka’ moment came a while ago in a pub near the Barbican, in London. I went to pay for two glasses of white wine, one of red and a large VAT with two £20 notes.

By the end of this year, we could be clobbered by double-digit inflation, the highest level since the dark days of the strike-prone early 1980s. Phone and broadband charges are also increasing. Whichever direction you look, prices are rising remorselessly

The barman patiently explained that forty quid wouldn’t cover it. The total came to £43.50, for four drinks. I just started laughing and gave him the difference. The cost of drinking in London soared way beyond silly donkey’s years ago.

But then I noticed that, apart from being just about the oldest person in the pub, I was also the only one paying cash and expecting change. The rest, largely 20 and 30-somethings simply pointed their iPhones and flexible friends in the general direction of the card reader and waited for the ping, without checking the amount or asking for a receipt. You don’t even have to sign for it now.

My guess is that they were all in for a nasty shock when the credit card statement landed at the end of the month, in some cases discovering they’d blown the thick end of a week’s take-home pay on a couple of hours’ dedicated drinking.

No wonder personal debt had soared past £2 billion the last time anyone looked. As I wrote last year, the cashless society is potless.

Call me old-fashioned, but I still like to keep track of what I’m spending. I also feel undressed without a wad of cash on the hip, the better for tipping cabbies and restaurant staff and having something to fall back on in case of emergencies.

In a modern service economy, there’s no substitute for walking-about money.

Contactless payment is all very well and I appreciate it’s more convenient for both shoppers and retailers. The Treasury are all in favour because it cuts down on tax avoidance. No more ‘call it a monkey for cash’ transactions.

But what happens when your bank’s mainframe computer crashes or your mobile runs out of juice? You’re up the proverbial creek without a paddle.

Far more sinister is the way in which shops and pubs can slip through hidden price increases under cover of cashless, confident in the knowledge few will spot it.

Trust me, when coins and notes are cast into the outer darkness and the cashless society becomes the norm, a 1.25 per cent rise in National Insurance is going to be the least of our worries.

Creepy-Crawly Corner has been a popular, occasional feature of this column over the years.

Gary loves it because it gives him the chance to draw all manner of exotic species from the Oak Processionary Moth to the Horrid Ground-weaver Spider and our old friend, the Depressed River Mussel. We have a soft spot for endangered animals and insects in this country, often putting their survival ahead of the greater public good.

I especially remember an entire bypass in East Anglia being postponed because it interfered with the natural habitat of the Whirlpool Ramshorn Snail. So I was thrilled to read that plans for a British Disneyland-style theme park in Kent have been abandoned because the location, which is home to the Distinguished Jumping Spider, has been declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

The spider — Sitticus Distinguendus, in Latin — is just 1cm long and is one of the rarest arachnids found in the UK. Developers are now seeking an alternative site for the Disneyland project.

Thanks to the Distinguished Jumping Spider, their original plans have all gone Mickey Mouse.

After yesterday’s revelation that women in England are not safe giving birth on the National Health Service, is anyone still planning to bang saucepans together to celebrate Our Amazing NHS? Thought not. 

Does my avatar bum look big in this? 

The older I get, the less I understand. For instance, take this story which appeared in another newspaper.

It was about a ‘virtual catwalk’ where you can buy limited edition clothes which are designed to make you look like a contestant on the Masked Singer.

This is one of them, by the fashion house Dolce & Gabbana. Apparently, you don’t actually get to wear the outfits, but you can get an avatar to model them.

They only exist online, in something called the Metaverse, and ‘are available to purchase as Non-Fungible Tokens via Manas, Decentraland’s own crypto-currency….Eh? Not a scooby.

I suppose it only goes to prove there’s one born every minute.

Thanks for all your contributions to Mask Watch, which logs the most ridiculous examples of people still sporting face coverings.

Freya Windley, from Birmingham, tells me she was interviewed for a job by a woman sitting alone in her office while wearing a mask — over Zoom.

Cindy Wall writes from Cambridge to say that on the warmest day of the year so far last weekend, she saw a couple both wearing masks on a punt on the River Cam.

And it’s not just in Britain that this over-caution still exists. Maria Sanderson has just returned from holiday in Barbados, where she took this photograph of a chap on a jet ski bouncing across the waves at full pelt, in a surgical mask.

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