Thursday, 29 July 2010

Should you give money to beggars?

Say you're out and about, and you see a man in a doorway, arms oustretched, asking you to spare some change.

What do you do?

There is a huge amount of conflicting advice, which polarises those who are in agreement on many other subjects.  Some say that if you give money, you're a mug fuelling a drug habit or perpetuating a sham lifestyle; others say that if you don't, you have no compassion.

So I want to know: what do you do?

From a brief glance at a variety of articles on the subject, I have established the following points both for and against giving money.

Reasons NOT to give money to beggars:

- They will potentially spend it on drugs, alcohol or cigarettes rather than food, clothes etc

- It may perpetuate a begging lifestyle, rather than forcing them to find a route out of their situation (such as by selling the Big Issue, which I've written about here: 

- There is the possibility that, if you give money to a beggar, you are giving money to a fraud who doesn't actually need the money.  In my opinion this is a grave crime because it casts doubt over the many genuinely needy people there are.

- It could be said it is better to give to homelessness charities such as Shelter, who will give the appropriate assistance by means such as providing food, shelter and assistance in finding housing and employment.

Reasons TO give money to beggars:

- For some people, it is the only option other than to descend into crime

- It could be argued that whatever they spend it on is their own choice.  There is nothing to say that if you give money to your plumber, or bartender, or accountant, that he or she will not spend it on drugs and alcohol.  I know that the problem is more rife among the homeless population than elsewhere; but it is patronising to say that, just because someone is poor, he or she cannot be responsible for spending responsibly. 

- Giving to beggars and giving to charity are not mutually exclusive.

- Although there are some frauds, is it not better to lose some money to a few of those, than risk allowing the genuinely needy to go without?

- 'There but for the grace of God (or Fate) go I...'  This saying is particularly true during today's troubled financial times, when we are all having to tighten our belts.  Remember there are always people worse off.

- By not giving to beggars, we are showing a level of callousness that damages self esteem, confidence etc as well as finances.  How would you feel?

And me? You've probably guessed from my ever-so-slightly biased account that I am in favour of giving. 

However, I am not 100% decided.  I hate the idea of giving money to people which they will ultimately spend on a habit which is ruining their lives. 

I suppose I have to be honest and say, generally, I use my wildly prejudiced and incorrect impression of people to determine whether they are genuine or not.  A terribly misguided way of doing things, but the only way I have. 

At the same time, I buy the Big Issue whenever I can, which I think should be the natural option for many homeless people.

So let me know - what do you do? What are your thoughts?  Answers on a postcard :-)


  1. It is a difficult choice and it really shouldn’t be. From my point of view, the main problem is the fraudulent beggars, which put you off putting your hand in your pocket. I would say around 95% of the people who ask me for money are just trying to pull a fast one. It puts you in a very negative frame of mind towards beggars in general. Those beggars with the really rubbish sob story of “I just got out of prison and I need to get a train to see my sick mother and I can’t ring her as my phone is out of credit. Look...” As they shove a mobile phone worth more than your house under your nose. And from time to time I’ve fallen for these (not that one) stories only to see the man in pub with his friends two hours later or the sobbing child at the same bus stop still taking people’s money. Now you may say there is an obvious difference between someone sleeping rough and a child in the latest adidas trainers, but once the doubt is there it is hard to get back into the giving spirit.

    I have always been of the opinion that the safest bet was to support charities designed to help those in need. But I have no idea if they actually make a difference to all. I think if I was actually a truly charitable person I would stop and talk to the beggar in question. I just make a judgement on the few seconds it takes to walk past. You never know, rather than a hand full of change they might prefer a conversation, a cup of tea and a sandwich. Or maybe just the benefit of the doubt and the coins in my pocket.

  2. I do know what you mean with regards to those people who come up to you with 'i ain't got no money for the bus - me mam's sick' etc etc.

    However, I do think there is a huge and obvious difference between such people, and those who sit in a doorway with a cup. I think such people are usually (though not always) genuine because (a) they don't make very much money from begging in such ways (they would make more from being on the dole, committing crimes etc) and (b) to sit all day, every day, in the rain, cold etc and have people disregard you as either worthless or a fraud takes a pretty hefty commitment. I would say people who do that have to be pretty desperate.

    I do see what you mean about taking the time to talk to beggars. But it isn't possible in reality due to the huge numbers of them (particularly in places such as London and Manchester). As I said above, and as you have reiterated, sometimes you need to rely on judgment. And while this is sometimes wildly inaccurate, it allows you to distinguish between someone who is extremely unkempt, wearing ratty clothes and sitting under cardboard; and someone who is wearing the latest sports gear and just wants to pull a fast one.

    I also think you are overestimating the number of frauds by saying 95% of beggars are not genuine. A beggar is not the same as a member of the public asking for money. In my opinion a beggar is someone who sits all day in the same place day after day. If a person like that was a fraud, then they're not choosing a very good way to make their money (embezzlement would appear to be a better option! :-P) I think a visit to a major city such as London may make you think again about the number of frauds there are. I'm not saying there aren't any - I'm sure sure there are plenty - but I think they are in the minority.

    Nonetheless thank you for your comments, 'What?' - compelling and well-thought out as ever :)

  3. The problem is, we're all trying to think with our brains instead of our hearts.

    Sometimes I give. Sometimes I don't. Don't overthink it - just let intuition be your guide.

    That advice applies to everything by the way. Breathe. Drink water. Do what feels right. In that order.

    Love Michael

  4. I believe that part of the problem is with the individuals who have the authority and influence to change the overall problem. They are not sensitive to the fact that homelessness is a reality so they look other directions. When a person in need gets so far down they don't have any of the resources it takes to be selected for a job or assistance. They don't have an address, clothes, transportation etc. etc. They are desperate...they are looked upon as beggars, bums, drug or alcohol addicts, etc. They are categorized whether they deserve it or not. Whether we believe it or not; we could all be in that position at some time. God forbid! I nearly always give when they ask and I feel good about it.

  5. If anyone thinks begging is soley for frauds, try it yourself. Walk around downtown and ask strangers for money. It's usually kind of hard to do. I have been on the streets and I just could never blindly beg, although I did have a host of stories. I wasn't trying to scam someone, even if the story was embelished or made-up, but I truly needed that money to get on down the road.

    I also found out that giving is good for the soul. I've been on both sides of the situation, but if you want to have some fun and truly help out someone, then engage them in some converstion--be a good listener, a non-judgemental listener. Look that person in the eye without disgust or condemnation, and then before you say good-bye, give 'em a few bucks, or take them into the fast food joint and share a meal with them.

    I know that it's hard to show patience and tolerance with all of "them," but you only need to do it with the ones that you are attracted to. Of course, that involves looking at each one of the down-trodden as an indivuual. Oh and they don't need any preaching. They already know the answers, but sometimes a helping hand makes the difference.

    It will truly change your life, and any bread you cast upon the water, with no hope of reward, wil then surely reward you.

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