The government is not planning to axe 1p and 2p coins, Downing Street has said, after a brief if vehement media campaign against the idea, which had been floated in a Treasury paper released with the spring statement.
The Treasury paper published on Tuesday announced a consultation on cash and digital payments, and noted that many consumers no longer regularly used 1p and 2p coins, as well as the £50 note.
This prompted some newspapers to herald the demise of copper coinage, warning about the associated impact on penny sweets and the cascade machines in seaside amusement arcades. Wednesday’s Daily Mail front page called it “a PR disaster in the making”, the front of the Sun said, “Save our coppers,” and the Daily Mirror lamented: “Pennies dropped.”
Asked about the plans, Theresa May’s spokesman said: “There are no proposals to scrap 1p or 2p coins in the consultation that HMT [Her Majesty’s Treasury] issued yesterday. The call for evidence is simply intended to enable the government to better understand the role of cash and digital payments in the new economy.
“One thing HMT were seeking views on was whether the current denominational mix of coins meets the public’s needs. From the early reaction, it looks as if it does.” The government would “welcome all contributions to the debate” and would respond after the consultation closes on 5 June, he added.
The charity sector had warned that scrapping the coins would damage smaller organisations that rely on bucket collections for the majority of their funding. The Charity Finance Group said UK charities collected millions of pounds’ worth of coppers every year. “It is a concern,” said Andrew O’Brien, the director of policy at CFG. “On the one hand, we don’t want the charity sector to be accused of being luddites.
“On the other hand, fundraising conditions are tight, particularly at the lower end for smaller charities, where people are reliant on bucket collections and spontaneous contributions. Charities are coming up with new, innovative ways to fundraise, but [traditional collections] are still significant.”
Mandy Johnson, chief executive of the Small Charities Coalition, which has about 9,200 members across the UK, said scrapping 1p and 2p coins would raise costs for charities. “Most small charities rely on donations from individuals for the majority of their fundraising. That’s volunteers asking people to put in their pennies where they can. At the moment, the alternatives to doing it that way are more costly.”
Johnson added that while contactless collection tins were available, they had higher costs. “If they remove the opportunity for people to give their pennies in the traditional way, they’re raising the cost of fundraising for small charities.”
As the Guardian revealed last year, George Osborne came close to abolishing 1p and 2p coins when he was chancellor, but the idea was blocked by the prime minister, David Cameron, who thought the public might disapprove.