Should you give money to beggars? (April 2012)

A few weeks ago, the Guardian featured an article that made me consider the arguments for and against giving money to beggars. The article argued that ‘if a person living on the streets decides to spend your money on drugs or alcohol, it’s none of your business’, even if it funds their final, fatal, hit. The article’s author was previously homeless and a beggar (he is also a rehabilitated offender, former drug user, author and founder of the charity User Voice) 

It goes on to say that the giver’s only business is to know that the money which is desperately needed by the beggar went directly into their hand, rather than to a charity who would spend a high proportion of it on administration and PR. 

The author may consider Thames Reach to be one such charity; in 2003 they began their Killing with Kindness campaign, which urges the public to give to homelessness charities rather than beggars. 

They argue that, contrary to popular perception, most people who beg are not homeless, and use the money to fuel a drug or alcohol addiction which could kill them (although this surely undermines the suggestion of giving to homeless charities rather than beggars?). To support their arguments, they quote findings from surveys by Westminster Council which found that 86% of beggars spend the money they receive on drugs or alcohol, 70% of beggars arrested in 2005 tested positive for Class A drugs and only 40% of those arrested for begging claimed to be homeless.

On the other hand, the chief executive of Crisis argues that giving money to beggars is a personal choice that individuals have to make. Contrary to Thames Reach, Crisis doesn’t think it should say nobody should give money to beggars. John Bird, founder of the Big Issue, agrees in part with this and acknowledges that “the very notion that we should stop giving to beggars would be a cruel blow against progressive opinion that people should be allowed to do what they want”, but stresses that “it does none of us any good to watch the helpless and the needy in our doorways. It dehumanises the sufferers and it dehumanises us”. Ultimately, he believes the public should stop giving money to beggars as it encourages them to remain on the streets.

Indeed, others agree that by giving money to beggars, the public encourages the act of begging and perpetuates a cycle of dependence on handouts and does not encourage an individual to access the services they require to improve their lives.

However, do the services that beggars require to improve their lives exist? I know there are lots of organisations out there working hard to tackle and prevent begging, homelessness, rough sleeping, addiction, etc., but I wouldn’t be surprised if a number of beggars have been unable to improve their lives because they’ve fallen through the gaps in this service provision for one reason or another.

Some countries have responded to the issue of begging by prohibiting begging and giving money to beggars. Surely a more effective solution would be to ensure a comprehensive range of services are in place to assist all beggars?

Articles such as the one featured by the Guardian always provoke readers to leave a variety of comments; from those who will only give money if they feel sure it won’t be spent on an addiction (some even give food or drink rather than money), to those who challenge the constant stereotyping by the media of all rough sleepers as addicts.

Let me know what you think, do you give to beggars or to charities instead? Have you taken the time to stop and speak to a beggar to find out what help they need? Are there any beggars in Amber Valley or is it more of a city problem?

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