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: http://goodliving-blog.blogspot.com/2010/07/big-issue.html).
- 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 :-)