In Depth

Will shoppers be charged for using self-service machines?

MPs say 1p fee for using self-scan tills could raise £30m a year to ‘heal social divisions’

MPs have floated a radical new plan to charge customers a small fee every time they use a self-service checkout machine at supermarkets.

The proposal is made in a new report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Integration, chaired by Change UK MP Chuka Umunna, says The Daily Telegraph. The panel suggests levying a 1p charge on all self-service transactions in order to raise up to £30m a year to help fund community projects.

Under the plan, the cash would be used to help repair divisions that have grown “between older and younger people, particularly around Brexit”, reports the Daily Mail, which notes that recent research has shown that “both the younger and older generations would be happy for the other to suffer if it meant getting their own way”.

Announcing the proposal, Umunna said that although “we all know that Brexit has been incredibly divisive”, the panel’s inquiry “suggests that generational division extends far beyond the realm of politics into our daily lives”.

According to the committee’s report, while technological advances have brought greater efficiencies and cost savings, such benefits have come at the expense of everyday human contact.

“If this is the case, then it might make sense to see if a fraction of those cost savings can be captured to [be] put back into initiatives that support greater social interaction, in this case greater intergenerational connection,”the report says.

“And with an increasing amount of evidence pointing to the high levels of loneliness experienced by people of all ages in the UK, building meaningful connections across generations should be seen as vital for the well-being of all of us.”

Welcoming the proposals, Antony Hawkins of The Challenge, a social integration charity, said: “Our society is divided along many fault lines, so it is great to see this group delve deep into the reasons for divisions between the ages and offer suggestions on how we bridge that gap.”

But Tom Ironside, a representative of UK supermarket trade body the British Retail Consortium, claims the proposed levy would be a “new tax” that “penalises modern shopping behaviour”, and would “harm both consumers and retailers at a time when retailers are rightly focused on delivering the best value for shoppers”.

“Given that retail accounts for 5% of the economy, yet pays 10% of all business costs and 25% of all business rates, we should be finding ways of reducing the tax burden, not adding to it,” Ironside added.

Other measures suggested by the parliamentary panel include a small tax break for people who commit to a set number of hours of volunteering each month, The Sun reports. The group is also calling for Transport for London to introduce a “Take Your Headphones Off Day” in order to encourage more conversations among commuters.

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