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Tuesday, 14 November, 2000, 15:06 GMT
Should we give to beggars?

The UK Government's new Change A Life campaign designed to clamp down on begging has been criticised by homelessness charities, such as Shelter and Crisis.

The scheme involves asking the public to donate money and time to charities rather than giving cash to street beggars.

The Rough Sleepers Unit, set up by the government to get people off the streets, have found that giving money to beggars may fuel drug and alcohol addiction.

Is the government right to try clamping down on giving to beggars? Does giving money to beggars encourage them to stay on the streets?


I had to beg between the ages of 16 and 19 as I was forced into homelessness

David, UK
I had to beg between the ages of 16 and 19 as I was forced into homelessness. If people hadn't given me money, I think out of desperation I would have turned to crime. The urge for survival on the cruel streets of modern Britain overrides any personal morals, no matter how deeply held. The only real issue is why did the social welfare net fail to catch me and now that I work, why must I pay tax toward something that so sadly let me down when I most needed it?
David, UK

A Government that squanders millions on the Millennium Dome has no right to dictate to me the wisdom or otherwise of giving my money to whoever I choose. If Mr Blair would like to give his money to charity, that is his affair. Could he please keep his obnoxious advisors and ministers from telling me what I should or should not do in my life? If I see a person on the street and feel like "sparing" my change in their direction I shall continue to do so, and if they use it to buy drink or drugs that is no more my business than it is Mr Blair's. If the Government is serious about solving the homelessness crisis in this country they can pump money into affordable social housing and spare us the hollow parsimonious preaching.
Fawaz Dhanoon, Reading, UK

The answer is simple - don't give them any money

Justin Morgan, Hungary
The answer is simple - don't give them any money. You'd be surprised how quickly they find jobs to support themselves or their habit.
Justin Morgan, Hungary

I once gave some money to a "hungry homeless living on the streets" woman in Cambridge, who promptly demanded more money. When I refused she became aggressive and waved her hands at me. I then noticed that she had immaculately painted nails. A few of these people are genuinely desperate; most aren't. How do we tell the difference?
Peter, UK

This Government scheme has clearly failed. If the streets of London and other cities and towns are to be free of these 'down and outs' then put some real money into supporting these people and understanding why and how they came to be in their predicament. Don't put money into a poor effort to solve the symptoms, i.e. sweeping the streets of them. Put the money where it is really required to solve the problem.
Jon Ocleshaw, UK

Some self-centered capitalist wants to get beggars off the road. Thank God there are still compassionate people in England who want help a down and out soul. I believe beggars should be given food, shelter, clothing and ABOVE ALL the milk of human kindness.
Anna, UK

It is a reflection of a largely selfish society

Tom Blackmore, Sweden
I believe that the number of homeless people and beggars in the UK is a disgrace. It is a reflection of a largely selfish society. The Government should be pushing a lot more money into this area reducing the need for charities like Shelter. Until this is the case, I feel that money should be given to both charities and beggars.
Tom Blackmore, Sweden (Originally from the UK)

Rather than give cash to street beggars, we donate to the Salvation Army who provide appropriate support to such people. We think this is a better way of directing the essentials of food and accommodation to the homeless.
John Kenyon, England

I agree with Paul Golson's remark about beggars being a part of life. The people on the streets are not out there because of their own choice, they are usually disturbed by some unfortunate happening in their lives. Instead of clamping down on their begging, maybe the Government should take steps to get them off the streets by offering them more support.
A. Ali, London, UK

I have to confess that I am amazed at the strange prejudices some people have. It is not the first time I've heard that it is useless to give money to a beggar because he or she is going to buy alcohol instead of food. I wonder why people give money if they want it to be spent in a certain way. It's as if I give someone a present and tell her or him what I want them to do with it!
Dominique Bikindou, France

In my view, people should feel free to give to beggars as they wish

Sally Wells, UK
In my view, people should feel free to give to beggars as they wish and not be dictated to by the Government. The very real danger of stopping people donating will be that beggars will turn to crime to get money from a different source.
Sally Wells, UK

We need new organisations to who can then provide outreach workers to help people on the streets. The Government should include this in their plan - people can then donate to the organisation.
Roy Stansfield, England

Three years ago I took pity on a beggar and his dog in Tunbridge Wells. I went into a baker's shop and bought him a cup of soup and a roll. I also bought a bone for the dog from a butcher. As I handed these gifts to him he told me, in no uncertain terms, what to do with the bone, where to stick the roll and promptly threw the soup on the pavement. I now give beggars a wide berth and precious little else.
Alex, NZ

There surely needs to be a way to find out exactly why people find it necessary to live on the streets

Susan Martin, USA
I don't know about Britain, but one young relative of ours (who has since died from Aids), supplied his entire drug habit by "panhandling" (the US name for begging) on the streets of Chicago. In addition to this he stole money from his parents and took things from them to sell for drugs. Whilst all beggars aren't drug users, there surely needs to be a way to find out exactly why people find it necessary to live on the streets and make their living cadging money from others with a more settled lifestyle. Having said that, all welfare systems have gaps that people fall through, so maybe that's an area that needs addressing.
Susan Martin, USA

I've just worked out that I spend about 5% of my take-home pay on alcohol. Should my employer pay my salary into a charity until I promise to be a good boy?
Martin, UK

Begging is traditional and, more importantly, optional. Taxpayers have no choice over the support of politicians, criminals, benefits scroungers and the like.
Gerry, UK

It's up to us to give and hope for the best

Tim Saunders, UK
I find it very disappointing when people assume that beggars are 'undeserving drug addicts' as opposed to people down on their luck. Ninety nine percent of the time we shall never know. It's up to us to give and hope for the best - if we don't we belittle ourselves.
Tim Saunders, UK

To Narinder Dogra, USA. Thanks to my own fiscal responsibility I am more than a dozen paycheques from being homeless. I don't see why I should be forced to pay for people who have failed to show any such responsibility and then expected "the establishment" to pick up the pieces. When I choose to give, I do so through registered charities and I buy the Big Issue which enables those at the bottom of the pile to make their own life better rather than expecting someone else to do it for them.
Karl Peters, UK

As a vegetarian I strongly object to my tax money being spent on subsidising the meat industry and when the Government (of whatever shade) gives me a say in how they spend my taxes then I will let them tell me how to spend the bit I have left.
Gill Redfearn, UK

Manchester city centre is quickly becoming a no-go area after dark thanks to the huge army of aggressive beggars and Big Issue sellers. Why should I be bullied into giving these people anything? I didn't put them on the street.
Eamonn, England

Come on Blair do something or forget your second term

Alex, Manchester, England
The Government is right to clamp down on begging, but only if they do so by coming up with a solution. Why should we give money to intimidating beggars on our streets when most of us pay so much tax? There are meant to be council flats and enough dole money to cover heating, food and TV. What on earth is the Government doing to correct this appalling situation? No-one likes to see those poor people on the streets, we all have a right to a roof, a meal and some entertainment. Come on Blair do something or forget your second term.
Alex, Manchester, England

If someone asks for help we should give it. Who are we to judge a person because they spend the money on alcohol or drugs? Just because someone does not conform to the so-called "norm" does not mean they are not human and don't deserve our help and respect.
Chris, UK/ Singapore

How many people are there in Britain? Let's say there are 80 million. If we each give a pound, then we can create 80 new millionaires! Either that or Blair and his cronies can have a pay rise. After all, they are just beggars too - they are always begging us poor taxpayers for more of our money!
John C, England

Life on the streets is very harsh

Andy Bannister, UK
Life on the streets is very harsh. Last year, I slept rough for one night just to experience what it was like - horrific. I wouldn't wish it on anyone. Given the harshness of life on the streets, can we therefore "blame" those rough sleepers who do choose to spend money they are given on drink/drugs.
Andy Bannister, UK

If, the Government cannot provide a decent safety net for the homeless, then what option do they have but to beg? If people can afford to give, then why not? What the recipient does with the money is their choice. We don't ask professionals whether they are snorting their fat fees up their noses. I don't think the homeless are fuelling the cocaine market.
Tom, Australia

What further proof does one need that the Left ain't what it used to be? The proposal reeks of President Reagan's campaign to obviate tax cuts to social and educational budgets by encouraging voluntarism and charitable giving. What next? Special badges to mark the deserving poor, so that smug yuppies can see their donations in action? Perhaps government-sponsored workhouses? Maybe Mr Blair and his Cabinet need to take some time this Christmas, rent a copy of the old Alastair Sims "Christmas Carol" and be reminded of the real spirit of giving....
C. McDougall, Canada

Subsidising poverty has little long-term effect in reducing it

D. McCarthy, Australia
Subsidising poverty has little long-term effect in reducing it. However, the big issue here is exactly who does Mr Blair think he is in telling people where they should put their money or who they should give it to? His Government takes millions off hard working people each week to keep ailing big business enterprises and hideous anti-democratic institutions alive. He should leave what's left in people's pockets for them to do with as they please.
D. McCarthy, Australia

Treat the homeless as you would like to be treated. We are all two pay cheques away from being homeless.
Narinder Dogra, USA

The issue of whether or not to give money to beggars is not one of national policy - it is one of individual conscience.
L. Mook, UK

Dependency Culture - it's a continual debate

Adam Tucker, England/ New Zealand
Dependency Culture - it's a continual debate. I've worked in the social housing sector for 5 years and am now less philanthropic than I used to be. I believe that what we really need to concentrate on is education - as the old saying goes, "give a man a fish and you feed him for the evening, teach him to fish and you feed him for life". The true solution is a mix of targeted help for those who really need it and education programmes to empower the homeless who want to change their lives to do it for themselves.
Adam Tucker, England (temporarily in New Zealand)

We already have a well-organised infrastructure for dealing with the destitute - it's called the dole. They give you a cheque, put you up in a B&B and you look for a job. Anyone who's unwilling to live within the framework of our society should make their own arrangements.
John, UK

The only beggar I'd give to is the Blind Beggar, one of the best pubs in the East End.
Derek, Ex-pat, Brazil

Give everybody what they should demand as a right - somewhere to live

Melanie Morris, UK Wales
I believe the real problem is a housing issue. If people who are homeless can be given a home then they can get a job and they won't have to beg. The government needs to ensure that there is a home for everybody in this country. Homes are found for asylum-seekers and illegal immigrants why not the vulnerable people in this country. Lets stop wasting money on policing petrol stations and shoring up failed millennium projects and give everybody what they should demand as a right - somewhere to live!
Melanie Morris, UK

I don't agree that we should follow the government's hard line on this. If we stop giving money to all beggars because some will spend it on drink/drugs then surely we should stop donating money to charitable organisations because some have been exposed as corrupt. Obviously many selfish people will see this government directive as a convenient way of appeasing their selfish conscience. Use your head and act in accordance with the situation.
Alex Paul, London, England

People choose what to do with their money be it giving to beggars, buying stocks and shares or buying clothes. I don't hear the Government issuing investment guidelines or lecturing us about what we should be wearing so why should they tell us who to give a bit of spare change to?
Stuart Simcox, UK

Until the governments of the world decide to get up off their backsides and do something about redistributing the wealth of the world, perhaps it's up to us the citizens to spread the wealth in any way we can. If this involves giving money to those that don't have it, then so be it.
Aonghus Cheevers, Ireland

Whom do we give to and whom do we deny? That's the question every single time one is confronted by a street person. Personally, I never give because I don't know anything about these people and their stories. That doesn't mean I don't feel badly for their predicament but I really do believe that more organized charities need to be supported than the individual on the street. Hopefully, at an organized place they may find housing connections as well as job skills/connections.
Roy, USA

Prisoners get a guarantee of food and shelter - beggars don't

Trevor Harvey, England
Prisoners get a guarantee of food and shelter - beggars don't. If we, from humane principles, offer these essentials to convicted criminals, why advise us to deny them to the poorest amongst us? Only a government which are control freaks would spend public money to advance, for the better off, a ready-made excuse for passing by on the other side!
Trevor Harvey, England

It boils down to incentives. If beggars know that they can get a decent wage from begging, then why will they work? We should not give our money directly to beggars but to charities and organisations that actively help to find decent jobs, work and training for these beggars.
Dennis, London UK

I suggest a Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens as compulsory reading material

Gerry, Scotland
I am ashamed to read some of the comments on this forum; Thatcher's children right enough. I suggest a Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens as compulsory reading material for all before the ghost of our selfish and uncaring, past, present and future come calling.
Gerry, Scotland

Many people on the streets are mentally ill and victims of so-called "care in the community", others have nowhere else to go having being churned out of our care system and left with no support. Many are children who have run away from abusive homes - not many actually choose to be on the streets, to sleep in the rain and cold without food or money. If I were ever in the position where I found myself homeless, I would hope that people would be kind enough to 'spare a little a change'. It's cold out there at night!
Liz, London, England

As most things in life, it comes down to a matter of choice. You can choose whether to give or not, to the beggar, or you can choose to give to a charity. By instructing the public in any one direction restricts their freedom to choose, thus infringing the right of CHOICE. Why is it that this Government seems to nanny us? Would the money being used to advertise this, not be better given to the charities.
Guy Watson, Great Britain

What a sanctimonious collection of comments so far! The government has no business telling me what to do with my disposable income. When I have some, I'm quite happy to give it to beggars - I live in London so this is not rare. If the beggar chooses to spend it on booze that's fine with me, if that's what s/he wants. If I lived on the streets, I'd want a beer too. If a bunch of 'upright citizens' don't want to give money, then they shouldn't but neither should they tell me what to do.
Andy Stanley, UK

Before the government abolishes begging they need to set up an alternative way of helping these homeless people. As although there are those who spend the money given to them inappropriately there are those who don't and rely on it. Perhaps it is not a question of stopping begging altogether but of simply administering the money people give in a more controlled way.
Dave, UK

Throughout history there has been beggars and the Government's latest muse won't change that. As for the beggars using the cash for drugs or booze I wonder what proportion of benefits paid out to non-homeless people are used for this purpose. Leave it to the individual to decide whether to give or not.
Mike Ryan, UK

A compassionless, middle England government of the 80's and early 90's probably had something to do with it

Rob Wilkinson, Finland
I am a UK citizen but I am studying this year in Finland. It was a month until I saw a beggar on the streets of Helsinki which made me think that the Finnish government must be getting something right. They have a much better welfare system than most EU countries although taxes are obviously higher, and this is extremely apparent as you walk the streets. Without beggars, the streets, railway and subway stations seem a lot less threatening than those of London and my own city of Hull. But you have to understand how the so-called beggars in the UK got to that state in the first place. A compassionless, middle England government of the 80's and early 90's probably had something to do with it.
Rob Wilkinson, Finland

Julia Taylor says "Under the dictates of Christian morality (and ordinary decency) we should give without considering what the recipient will do with the gift". I disagree. Surely we hold responsibility for what we give and to whom? If it were not the case then where would the problem be in selling arms to dictators? Are we really "morally allowed" to hand money to a beggar who may use that to destroy their life further on, for instance, drugs? Surely a better route is to sort out the underlying problems and prevent the need for genuine beggars to exist?

We should help our fellow man

Lenny McEntee, Wales
I once tripped over a beggar and only then noticed him. How ashamed I am for letting myself ignore these poor souls who have not had as much luck as the rest of us. We should help our fellow man, because who knows someone might as easily be tripping over us in time if our luck changes.
Lenny McEntee, Wales

The Government may suggest but NOT mandate what its citizens should do on moral grounds.
Chris Davis, USA

Frankly, if I had to sleep on the streets in November I think I'd want to be drunk or high.

Benedict North, UK
Frankly, if I had to sleep on the streets in November I think I'd want to be drunk or high. Compassion is personal as well as societal. Perhaps those condemnatory commentators should try to show a little, rather than simply abdicating responsibility for those less fortunate or capable than themselves.
Benedict North, UK

Wherever I look, in the streets, on TV, in my newspaper, my mailbox, be it electronic or conventional I am confronted with people who want just one thing: my money. However none of them puts it straight; they offer health, eternal youth, unlimited career opportunities or a new dimension in shaving in exchange. Of course they are a nuisance but, as any single member of the British government will agree, they are inevitable. This is the price that has to be paid in order to maintain our historically unprecedented wealth.
Jacob Smits, Switzerland

The first and last time I gave money to a beggar I saw him drinking in my local pub that evening with a pile of pound coins on the table in front of him. I have no objection whatsoever to giving money towards food or housing but I will not give my hard-earned money to fund someone else's drinking.
Bruce Walton, England

I have got to the point that I carry packets of food (tuna fish, crackers, hiker rations, apples etc.) so that when people ask me for money to buy a little something to eat I can give them food. You should see 99% of the people they just turn around and walk away.
Eddie, USA

I think that the government should spend more money on helping the poor of this country. Rather than spending it on embarrassing monuments like the Dome. Personally, I think if the government got it's act together there would be less pressure on the general public to deal with the social struggles which Britain is facing today!
Sharon Kasbia, UK,

Whilst people are giving money to beggars, people will be begging. If people stop giving money to beggars, do the beggars stop begging or do they start stealing? Beggars have always existed, even in (or perhaps especially) in the most affluent societies there are beggars. I am 100% in favour of the argument that says if you are going to give then give food. Giving money might mean that you are helping someone obtain drugs and therefore you are fuelling the whole supply chain that might be the cause of the beggar's plight.
Rod Clark, UK

We give 70,000 people asylum each year from abroad , shouldn't we be concentrating some of these resources on our homeless beggars

Mark, Germany
Alchohol and drugs aside, many of these beggars are victims of a crass and unjust system that throws its nationals in the gutter. Very often these 'beggars' are teenagers escaping/leaving local authority care caught in a cycle of poverty where cash hand outs by the DSS are forbidden and this debate is discussing how we can further starve these kids off our streets. We give 70,000 people asylum each year from abroad , shouldn't we be concentrating some of these resources on our homeless beggars. Remember charity starts at home.
Mark, Germany (UK citizen)

I don't think it's any of the government's business to tell people how to handle beggars. I realise that many beggars are mentally ill, drug-addicts or alcoholics, but forcing them off the street is not the solution. Indeed, by banning begging, the government is posing a threat to freedom-- freedom of assembly and other freedoms that we take for granted could be in peril.
Jeff, USA

Tony Blair and his government are beggars in suits, we should stop giving to them first.
Mike Robertson, UK

The Rough Sleepers Unit only moves the problem around - it doesn't solve it

Mark Dickinson, England
I'm not convinced by this one. I have spent quite some time going out onto the streets of Nottingham at night with a church 'soup run' to give food, clothes and other items to these people and if we didn't do this then many would either become seriously ill or turn to crime. I agree that they shouldn't be given money which could fuel a drug habit, but these are real people, who we cannot simply brush under the carpet of the Rough Sleepers Unit to make our sanitised world a nicer place.
We have to ask why people are there in the first place and contrary to popular belief, many of those I speak to are not there by choice but as the result of some very sad episode in their life, such as a divorce, or a parent/child relationship breakdown. They so desperately want to get their lives back in order and feel wanted again, and a Rough Sleepers Unit only moves the problem around - it doesn't solve it.
Mark Dickinson, Nottingham, England

If beggars want money for food, why don't they beg outside places like McDonalds and ask for food directly? If someone asked me for a hamburger and looked hungry, I'd probably buy them one, whereas I'd never give someone money.
Mark, UK / Netherlands

It's a valid point that money you give to beggars might go towards drug or alcohol habits. But given the opposition that some major charities have to this proposal, I would much rather that people gave beggars food instead of money.
CNS, Durham, England

Compassion and charity is for life, not just for Christmas!

Conal Presho, England
I think that people should stop giving money to people on the streets, but only when the government has invested in a well organised infrastructure designed to help the homeless into work and off the streets. Simply telling people to stop giving money now will only cause harm unless there is a viable alternative.
People should also volunteer to help out in homeless shelters, but please volunteer all year round, not just for the short Christmas period. Compassion and charity is for life, not just for Christmas!
Conal Presho, England

Of course the government is right. How many of the homeless on the street do you see walking and sitting with cans and bottles of alcohol. Why give money to these people just so they can blow it on booze and drugs. OK - maybe they need to take these things to temporarily forget their lives, but surely wasting money like this is completely unnecessary.
Susie, UK

Charities exist to which people already contribute, yet there are people who remain homeless and hungry. They have to beg to survive and to my mind I can't imagine these people doing it out of choice.
Ramana, UK

I agree with the Government on this one. Why should we give money to the homeless? We all need it to cover the cost of fuel in this country. We don't want the government missing out on tax now, do we? Get real Blair!. What planet are you on?
Steve A., UK

Just accept that some of your 1 coins are going that way and be happy that most of them are really helping to make a difference, however small

Mike, England
As I understand it, there is only a reasonably small percentage of beggars who use money gleaned from the public to fuel drug and alcohol addiction. We shouldn't let these few stop the genuinely needy from receiving our money directly if we want to give it. How can you tell the difference? - You can't.... just accept that some of your 1 coins are going that way and be happy that most of them are really helping to make a difference, however small. Keep giving.
Mike, England

I have no problem with anyone who discourages giving money to beggars. Beggars can be annoying and intimidating, and you have no idea whether they are truly desperate or not. But if the Government want to discourage giving, then they must promise to look at why the 'true' beggars are there in the first place, and do something about it. Desperate beggars who are given no money may resort to mugging.
Andy Brown, England

The British Government is doing the right thing by clamping down on beggars. This is the only way one can check the growth of begging which is prevalent in many parts of the world. Perhaps governments in the Third World can learn from the British experience and thereby eliminate begging, which is reaching alarming proportions in the developing world. However, there is nothing wrong in giving cash to a beggar once in a way on humanitarian grounds, provided he or she genuinely needs it.
Albert Devakaram, India

Under the dictates of Christian morality (and ordinary decency) we should give without considering what the recipient will do with the gift. That is his business; ours is to give him both the coin and the choice.
Julia Taylor, England

There has always been beggars. There will always be beggars. It's a way of life. There must be something in it. It will never cease. It's a personal thing that ensures the balance of begging.
Paul Golson, Zambia

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