I lifted the title of this post from an old folk song (I love my music, no matter how obscure), but sadly begging seems to be more noticeable in our towns and cities at the moment.
I live in Birmingham UK, and like any major town (population around 1 million) it has its fair share of problems. After more than a decade here I’ve come face-to-face with a few of them… sometimes up-close and personal.
A darker turn
But things have taken a darker turn and I rarely walk far without being accosted. People are quick to condemn. ‘They make a mint out of it!’ said a friend. I’m told that begging is quite lucrative; but you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.
Most of the beggars I see don’t look good. Old age sets in early when you walk those mean streets alone, and some beggars (the word seems wrong somehow; demeaning?) are drug addicts. A very few are probably tricksters; but not many. There are easier ways to blag a crust even in this recession-raddled decade.
No. This kind of begging involves people who were already hanging onto the fringes of society before the recession kicked in.
Some lost their jobs, partners and homes. Others are still teetering on the brink waiting to fall over. To harp on a theme, I saw it before during the 80s, and now it seems we’re back where we started. So much for social progress in an age where money seems to the the measure of everything. ‘And why not?’ asks the siren voice of capitalism.
To give or not to give?
I avoid giving money to street beggars because I know where that can lead. I thought rather differently at one time, reckoning that a slack handful of change could make a real difference.
Then I read this article on a site called 24dash and it changed my mind. The article’s focus is on London, but the same advice could apply almost anywhere.
Emotions take over
I admit that begging upsets me. It bothers me on an emotional level because I feel powerless to do much about it. I buy the Big Issue and sometimes donate a small amount to a homeless charity. This seems paltry, because it doesn’t seem to prevent homelessness or begging – it just mops up afterwards.
Who wants to live in a society which is prepared to turn a blind eye and pretend that street begging is an inevitable but necessary evil? Not me. To me, money is not the measure of everything: it’s just an everyday tool.
I feel as if we’ve wandered into a deep jungle of intolerance, and we’re rapidly back-pedalling towards oblivion. Let’s hope not! Surely we are better than that.