A ‘digital pound’ is an exciting prospect. However, a number of constituents have recently contacted me to raise their concerns regarding the UK’s CBDC proposals, particularly with regards to human rights and privacy.
In February 2023, HM Treasury and the Bank of England published a joint consultation on a UK CBDC. At this stage, a final decision has not yet been made and will be informed by this consultation and future work.
Financial inclusion means that everyone, regardless of their background or income, has access to useful and affordable financial products and services such as banking, payment services, credit, insurance, and the use of financial technology. I would like to reassure constituents that tackling financial exclusion, particularly as financial services become more digital, is a priority for me and the Government. Levels of financial inclusion in the UK are high compared to many of our international counterparts.
I understand the Government works closely with regulators, industry and the third sector to advance financial inclusion, and recognises that fair and affordable access to relevant financial products and services is vital in people’s everyday lives, whether that is opening a bank account to receive an income, accessing credit, securing insurance, or retirement planning. Moreover, government policy on financial capability focuses on ensuring that people can access the guidance and advice they need and have the confidence and skills to successfully engage with their personal finances.
Neither the Bank of England nor the Government would be able to programme CBDC or restrict how money is spent. If there was end-user demand for programmability features, then any programmability features would be designed by the private sector wallets, and users would have the option to use them if they so wished. HM Treasury has confirmed that any potential private-sector programmability features will be carefully balanced against the important data and privacy considerations of a CBDC.
Critically, access to cash is key to the Government’s work on financial inclusion. The Government has legislated to protect access to cash, and ensure that the UK cash infrastructure remains sustainable. I can assure constituents, any proposals for a digital pound would not seek to replace cash or cause further financial exclusion for groups who rely on and prefer physical financial services infrastructure.
I have ensured colleagues are aware of the human rights concerns people have raised as they engage in this conversation.