Supermarkets are being urged to introduce a small charge to use self-checkout machines as part of plans put forward by MPs to help heal social divisions.
The proposal was made by a cross-party parliamentary panel on social integration (APPG), in a new report titled Healing the Generational Divide.
Healing social divisions
A 1p charge to use self-checkout machines in supermarkets across the UK was put forward as a policy to tackle the damage caused by a lack of everyday social interaction.
The panel, which is chaired by Change UK MP Chuka Umunna, hopes the penny charge could help to raise £30million to help fund community projects that will bring people from different generations together.
However, experts say the proposed policy would penalise shoppers and would effectively be a new tax to use the supermarket.
Alex Smith, founder of The Cares Family charity, proposed the introduction of a charge, with the report stating, "The thinking behind this idea is that some of the technological changes we are seeing sweep through our society may bring major efficiencies and cost savings, but that these can come at the expense of valuable 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 put back into initiatives that support greater social interaction, in this case greater intergenerational connection.
"The APPG's calculations suggest this policy might yield upwards of £20 million per year to strengthen intergenerational projects."
Fostering stronger ties
Research for the report was based on a study of Morrisons supermarkets, which suggests the business has around 617 million checkout transactions each year across its 491 stores, and an average of 24,000 customers per store per week.
The panel then used Morrisons' 10.5 per cent market share to estimate the total amount the charge could bring in alongside other supermarkets, based on at least half of checkout transactions being at self-service units.
It was argued in the report that self-checkout machines are already discouraging elderly people from shopping and a charge may help prompt more people to interact on manned checkouts.
The report added, "It is imperative that we act now to foster stronger ties between different age groups, given the political and social challenges that the UK faces.
"Brexit has demonstrated the need to strengthen ties between different generations so that we can face big national challenges together rather than apart.
"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 wellbeing of all of us."
However, critics of the proposal claimed the Government should be finding alternate ways to raise funds to support social projects, instead of penalising shoppers.
Tom Ironside, head of business and regulation at the British Retail Consortium, told The Sun, "A new tax, particularly one that penalises modern shopping behaviour, will 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 five per cent of the economy, yet pays 10 per cent of all business costs and 25 per cent of all business rates, we should be finding ways of reducing the tax burden, not adding to it."