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Beggars Of Britain Essay Help

Amazing change is taking place in my neck of the woods. Every few days it seems a new restaurant opens its doors, a laptop cafe pops up, or a stripped-down vintage shop appears. Gentrification, sweeping eastwards across London towards the Olympic Park, is transforming the landscape. House prices are going through the roof. But amid the organic veg mounds and coffee fetishists one feature of neighbourhood life remains the same – the daily presence of beggars on the streets.

What is to be done? It's easier to say what shouldn't – easier, at least, as in clearer. That is, you shouldn't give beggars money. The argument for what at first glance can seem like hard-heartedness is not new but worth repeating. Jeremy Swain, chief executive of the London homelessness charity Thames Reach, has lately made the case again under the stark heading Killing with kindness."I am fascinated by the impulses that lead us to give money to people begging on the street," he writes. "In fact, to be candid, I am frequently left incredulous at the justification given for dropping money into the cap next to the sign that says 'hungry and homeless'."

For 10 years Thames Reach and others have been trying to persuade us that handing loose change to sad, dishevelled, beseeching suitors on high streets does more harm than good. Campaigns to stop it are needed, argues Swain, "because of the incontrovertible evidence that the vast majority of people begging on the streets are doing so in order to purchase hard drugs".

Outreach workers know it. The police know it. They are the ones who have to deal with the consequences, handling the harder cases, directing them to rehab, hoping not to have to fish a corpse out of a hostel's bath. Swain doesn't buy the line that austerity has spawned a new type of beggar, desperate only for food. The majority of those arrested aren't actually homeless. Denial and complacency among those who fund addiction the odd pound at a time can induce "hot waves of anger" in him.

I took this argument on board years back but I have stopped giving to beggars for another reason too. It is, I'm afraid, because I'm sick of them. One of the regulars round my way, a bit clever, fag in hand, became so persistent, so intrusive, that I got quite hostile, dismissing him with the same curt tone I find myself using with cold callers who plague my phone.

I don't like being pestered, even pawed, when approaching the corner shop with my small daughter. I feel quite insulted by the bolder ones' never-changing ploys: the proffered handshake and old pals greeting ("Hello, my friend! I need just a little favour …"); the tall tales about the meter running out, the urgent need for a bus fare, or of wives having babies a taxi ride away. I don't like being picked out as a sucker. I learned long, long ago that junkies lie.

These feelings don't fill me with pride. That is because I know that beggars, from the outrageously brash to the pathetically passive, are almost always in a truly desperate plight. It's just not the one they claim it is. Beneath my narkiness I want to help. What is the best way?

Thames Reach doesn't discourage engaging with members of street populations in London or, of course, other cities and towns: buy someone food or a cup of tea if you wish and, best of all, if you think they are sleeping rough, contact local homelessness organisations (the StreetLink webpage can direct you to those in England. Thames Reach points out too, though, that most rough sleepers don't beg and most beggars aren't rough sleepers. Local authorities and police, linked with voluntary groups and health and addiction services, are alternative avenues for constructive action.

If you want to help with money, give it to a relevant charity. And don't feel bad if, like me these days, you find beggars unpleasant as well as concerning. Thames Reach considers such feelings along with worries about the wider effects of begging on communities understandable and justified. Individuals doing the right things in response to it shouldn't fear they are colluding in the persecution of the needy. The effort to help beggars needs public support.

Some days, it seems to me that the trendier my neighbourhood gets the more begging there is in it. If so, maybe it's no coincidence. Whatever, the message is the same, wherever you live. Don't give money to street beggars. Help them instead.

No good deed goes unpunished. This is a saying that applies with special poignancy to Olive Cooke, the 92-year-old poppy seller who jumped to her death in the Avon Gorge near Bristol after receiving something like 3,000 begging letters a year from charities. Mrs Cooke was a great believer in charity. She had sold poppies on behalf of the Royal British Legion since 1938, taking up position every November outside the entrance to Bristol Cathedral. She may have disposed of more than 30,000 poppies during her eight decades of selling them there.

She was, said her family, somebody of an ‘incredibly kind, generous and charitable nature’ who held 27 direct debits to charities. The word got about. Here, obviously, was a sucker. Charities started passing her contact details to each other until she was on the mailing lists of 99 organisations that bombarded her with begging letters. This may not have been the main cause of her suicide, but it nevertheless left her feeling ‘overwhelmed’, ‘upset’ and ‘depressed’, her family said.

The ruthlessness of charities, as recently exposed in the media, is really quite shocking. Not only do they persecute good people like Mrs Cooke; they also employ sleuths to inspect people’s wills for charitable bequests and then chase up the relatives of the dead for payment — behaviour condemned by bereavement counsellors as ‘indefensible’. At the same time, as the Times exposed, more than a thousand charity executives are paid six-figure salaries, and 277 of these more even than the Prime Minister, who earns £142,500 a year. It is hardly surprising that, as William Shawcross, the chairman of the Charity Commission, said, charities are in danger of losing the public’s trust.

The case of Mrs Cooke is extreme, but her treatment reflects a belief shared by all charities, however respectable, that the best people to pursue for money are those that give it away already. The generous are pursued; the miserly are left in peace. You don’t even have to be very generous to suffer. I have one or two small direct debits to charities, but they regularly write to ask me for more. This has the opposite of the desired effect; it makes me want to cancel the direct debits.

I can see that charities have a problem. There is no very nice way of asking for money, but good manners require that warm expressions of gratitude for a donation should be followed by a substantial period of time during which the giver is permitted to feel good about himself before being targeted for more. It should also be required that telephone fundraisers get to the point immediately rather than invent some other pretext for their call. My old college at university sometimes gets a student, normally a female one, to telephone me at home to tell me what an interesting fellow I must be and how sure she is that I would like to know about life in the college today. Minutes of agonising conversation then follow before she reveals the true purpose of her call.

All this makes one sceptical about charitable giving. How much of it goes on salaries to overpaid executives? How much on further fundraising? How much on advertising, newsletters and public relations? And how much on the cause one would like to support? These are questions that one cannot help asking oneself, even though one will never know the answers.

One is usually advised to be wary of giving money to beggars; better to entrust it to a reputable organisation that will spend it wisely on the people that most need it. But I remain to be convinced. Charities realise that it’s more normal in human nature to want to give to an individual than to an amorphous entity, which is why they advertise with, say, a harrowing photograph of a starving child. The person then feels that it’s that specific child he is helping when he gives the charity money. Safer still to give money directly to the person who will benefit from it, even at the risk of being ripped off. You know the beggar may be a fraud, but you also at least know that he will be genuinely grateful.

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