Do not give money to beggars this Christmas is the feel good message of Thames Reach, which provides support to 8,500 homeless people in London. It cites overwhelming evidence that people who beg on the streets do so to buy hard drugs such as crack cocaine and heroin. Up to 80 per cent of beggars do so to support a drug habit, it claims.
The result was corroborated by a drugs test by police on a group of people arrested in Westminster for begging; more than 70 per cent tested positive for crack cocaine or heroin.
What’s more, not all beggars are homeless – many live in bedsits or hostels. It might seem harsh but common sense suggests that Thames Reach is right. If you give too much money (how little is too much?) you might inadvertently contribute to an overdose. And then you would have blood on your hands. Not for nothing have cash handouts been described as “misplaced goodwill”.
And why do we want to encourage begging on our streets? It won’t motivate them to find help and get a job but induce them to stay on the streets and continue the vicious circle of decline.
Whenever I encounter a beggar the following thought process goes through my head: “Why should I hand out money to you when I pay my bloody taxes to ensure the poor are looked after the welfare state? You will only spend it on drink. “When I could do with a drink myself.” Then my train of thought crouches into a guilt-ridden stream of consciousness: “What if the poor guy is homeless or mentally ill? Why am I such a selfish bastard?”
But this moral equivocation is precisely what beggars rely on. In the Sherlock Holmes story, The Man with the Twisted Lip, first published in 1891 in the Strand magazine, Holmes encounters a man who gives up a career as a journalist to become a beggar because he can make more money that way. The same is true today. Thames Reach cites examples of some beggars who are able to make 300 pounds or 400 pounds a day at Piccadilly Circus, mainly from tourists.
The road to proverbial hell is paved with good intentions – and that applies more than anything else to begging. Just. Don’t. Do. It. Get them a cup of coffee instead. Or buy a copy of The Big Issue or, far better; donate money to the Evening Standard’s Dispossessed campaign, which has now topped 5 million pounds. You can be sure the money will be spent wisely and reach its intended recipients. In order to salve my conscience I always give money to beggars abroad but never at home. It is my moral compromise.
A Happy Christmas to beggars and vagrants everywhere. Our thoughts are with you – and the pennies and pounds are in the post.
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