I have identified the below problem.
Problem: The homeless are now losing their only source of income as our society goes moves towards more cashless transactions.
I now need to verify through research that this is a problem that others have noted and is having a large impact on the homeless.
Cashless society and its impact on the homeless
To begin my research I first wanted to establish that people no longer carrying money was actually impacting the homeless. I found the following:
In an article by Phoebe Braithwaite in 2018 she writes about the experience Natalie has had as someone that has become homeless twice over a short period of time.
In 2015, Natalie, who is 27 and grew up in north London, was given a place in a hostel, but she became homeless again this year after the council raised the rates and she fell behind on her rent.
Since becoming homeless again, Natalie has noticed that more and more people have apologised for not having change. “They seemed to have a lot more to give [back in 2014]. I was getting more in that summer than I did in the winter just gone,” Natalie says. “In the winter people tend to be a lot more generous anyway, because obviously they see you out and it’s snowing and it’s cold. But this time around – I’ve been homeless since December, and it’s been a lot worse. It’s been a lot, lot worse.”
This is a first-hand experience from Natalie who has found that in 2018 people have apologised for not having change and has noted that “They seemed to have a lot more to give [back in 2014]”. In the article titled Spare change is dying and the UK’s homeless are worried.
Across the UK, 300 cash machines close each month. Poorer rural areas, where machines were brought in to cushion the closure of branches, are being hit hardest. In 2006, 62 per cent of payments were made in cash. Today, only 40 percent are, and by 2026 this is expected to be as low as 21 percent. For people without a stable bed, who rely on the generosity of strangers, the disappearance of spare change is an urgent issue.
Charities such as Big Issue’s have had to source their own card machines to tackle the problem. This brings with it its own issues.
“A few of the sellers have got card readers, but for that you need a bank account, and for a bank account you need an address and an ID. You also need a data connection and it’s very difficult to get a hotspot.”
“Poverty is associated with a lack of technology,” says Brett Scott, a campaigner and expert on financial automation. “And that’s partly what convinces people that someone’s in need.” The presence of devices like card readers changes the psychological dynamic of how people think about homeless people, he says.
“I joke about how we should get card machines or something. I’d feel a bit weird,” Natalie says. “‘I do accept cards’ – I dunno how well that would go down.”
In an Echo article by Ellen Kirwin in 2020 the same problem is highlighted with another individual facing homelessness having the same experience.
‘I’ve not got change’ or ‘I’ve only got a card’ is something that those on the streets say they hear far too often.
Statistics on being homeless
As I am pitching this idea to help with the problem of homelessness in Northern Ireland I have researched the current statistics on homeless relating to Northern Ireland.
Above is an image of the first page of a pdf developed by the Department for Communities (DfC), Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE). Its findings are based from January 2020 to June 2021 as was therefore the most current findings I came across in my research.
- 3402 Households living in temporary accommodation
- 8610 people presented as homeless, 63% (5,429) were accepted as statutorily homeless
- The households accepted as statutorily homeless between January-June 2021 included a total of 3,416 children.
- The most frequent outcome of the priority need test of those accepted was to be categorised as ‘vulnerable’ with 54% (2,912)
- The top three reasons for being accepted as homeless were: accommodation not reasonable (1,811, 33%), sharing breakdown/family dispute (1,069, 20%) and; loss of rented accommodation (634, 12%).
- Reason for presenting as homeless:
Statistics on Cashlessness in the UK
As the majority of the case studies I found presented above (interviews with the homeless) are based in the UK I wanted to keep these statistics relevant to the UK so that the findings would tie together. This can then be followed by the statistics relating to Northern Ireland specifically.
- 83% of people in the UK now use contactless, with no age group or region falling below 75% usage.
- 2020 saw the number of cash payments made in the UK fall by 35%, meaning that cash was used for 17% of all payments in the UK.
- In 2006, 62% of payments were made in cash. In 2018, only 40% of payments were being made in cash.
- Around 8,000 ATMs have been switched off in the past 18 months, according to research by consumer group, Which? – equating to a fall of around 13%.
Method in Use
While there is no programme currently in existence like what I am proposing there are elements of what I want to achieve that have already been carried out including donating at till options in various stores and a card distribution scheme (spend local scheme)
Donate at Till
An example of this that particularly sticks out in my mind is the option to round up your order and donate to the Ronald McDonald House Charities. I found an article looking at the scheme’s success following its launch in the UK.
- In three decades, 50,000 families have been supported by Ronald McDonald House which provides free ‘home away from home’ accommodation for families so they can be moments away from their child in hospital
- ‘donate at kiosk’ option in its restaurants across the UK which sees customers given the option to round up their bill to the nearest pound or alternatively add 1p, 10p or 20p via the self-order kiosks.
- Within just a week of launching the ‘donate at kiosk’ option, more than £125,000 has been raised which goes directly to the charity.
Card Distribution Scheme
Not only was I able to substantiate that a card distribution scheme was possible by the Spend Local initiative in Northern Ireland, but I was also able to ascertain that supply to the homeless was possible as well.
In a BBC article, it was highlighted that almost anyone aged 18 and over in Northern Ireland can apply for a Spend Local card, including the homeless. This was made possible by organisations helping the homeless community and people in temporary accommodation by applying for the card on their behalf. Nicola McCrudden, who heads up the Council for the Homeless, was quoted as saying:
“that individuals experiencing homelessness are able to exercise their entitlement to the £100 pre-paid card…This money can be a lifeline for many, including families, and can help towards basic necessities like food, clothing and fuel costs…People experiencing homelessness often find it difficult to access services because they don’t have a permanent address.”
I wanted to find some of the Northern Ireland homeless’ lived experiences. I was able to find an article on what it was like being Homeless during a pandemic in Belfast Live. The article provided a story written by Dylan Whelan a 10-year-old boy who was living with his Mum and little sister in a Belfast Hostel at that time.
Direct quotes of his experience where as follows:
“At first, I felt sad and angry – and then bored because I can’t play outside, we don’t have anywhere to play outside, and I didn’t want to stay here…I have two wishes – for Coronavirus be gone and for us to have a new house. I want to be close to my friends so I can play with them.”
Charities tackling homeless in Northern Ireland
The top charities that aim to help the homeless across Northern Ireland are the Simon Community, Welcome Organisation and Shelter Northern Ireland.
The Simon Community run several services including homelessness prevention, accommodation services, health, well-being and practice development and young people’s support services. The Welcome Organisation help people affected by homelessness through a range of services including a Drop-in Centre, Street Outreach service, Crisis Accommodation for Women, Floating Support service and our Welcome Home project. Shelter NI’s mission is to promote and facilitate the provision of sufficient, decent and affordable homes to end long term homelessness and eliminate poor housing.
All of these charities are doing a lot for the homeless community and are organisations that would be very helpful to work with. I was not able to get anybody in these organisations to do a quick interview with me however I still feel it is important to mention these charities and the excellent work they are doing in my presentation.
The two primary competitors that I feel are offering a viable solution to cashlessness are Tap and Giving Streets. Tap implements a similar collection system to what I am proposing (donation points across the city) however Tap is only based in London and does not provide the same card distributions system I am suggesting. Giving streets works via QR Code system however this approach requires the homeless to have bank accounts.
Further Quotes and Facts
- The number of households living in temporary accommodation in Northern Ireland has increased by almost two-thirds this year since January 2019. Department of Communities, 2021
- A July survey of more than 8,000 UK adults carried out by the housing charity Shelter and YouGov has revealed that close to 40% of UK households are just one paycheque from potential homelessness.
- Poverty is associated with a lack of technology… And that’s partly what convinces people that someone’s in need.” Brett Scott, a campaigner and expert on financial automation.