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It beggars belief we don't find out more about the poor on our streets

By Lindy McDowell

Published 24/06/2015

Sad sight: there has been a noticeable rise in begging
Sad sight: there has been a noticeable rise in begging

Either I look more of a soft touch than I used to or Councillor Jim Rodgers is right with his recent comments about the increasing number of people begging on our streets. Every time I pass through the city centre these days I'm asked for alms. It's almost like paying a toll.

"You wouldn't have the price of a cappuccino to spare?" a young man asked me as I went into a coffee shop the other day. An odd thing to ask for, I thought. Although I doubt it was a caffeine fix he was after.

I gave him a few bob. But sometimes I'm low on coinage myself.

Like the day recently I was standing at a bus queue when a young woman approached me. She was aged about mid-20s, and if not spectacularly well-dressed, then certainly not shabbily.

She was walking at quite a clip but all of a sudden drew up short in front of me and muttered something that involved the words "spare change". I didn't have a spare penny. I knew because I'd had to scrabble through the bottom of my bag for the two quid bus fare.

"I'm sorry," I told her.

"I'll remember you in my prayers tonight," she said as she moved along. I felt like a louse.

She walked right on past a long queue of people before she stopped again. It occurred to me that the woman she had selected this time was, like myself, old enough to be her mother.

And then a dark thought occurred to me - was this deliberate strategy, targeting women who could be her mum, mentioning the bit about prayer?

As soon as I thought this, I thought "Shame on you for thinking such a thing".

But the disturbing truth is that there is good reason why people like me are increasingly dubious about those who ask for alms, whether it is the outstretched hand in the street or on a more organised, corporate level via direct debit.

For there is now, what you could call, a flourishing begging industry and, certainly at the more professional level, it is pitched very much at emotional appeal. I doubt if I'm the only person who finds it hard to look at those charity ads that particularly infest daytime TV and generally feature an emaciated child from some Third World country staring pitifully into the camera.

Who are these children? Many are obviously terribly ill and distressed. What are the ethics of filming them for a charity appeal? Above all, what proportion of the money raised by these most plaintive of images actually goes towards helping the children featured?

How much goes on administration? On the fat cat salaries of charity execs?

The story of the elderly lady who took her own life after she'd been inundated by begging phone calls and pleading letters will resonate with a lot of people who've previously given money (and their telephone and address details) to charity, only to find themselves routinely pestered (and there is no other word) to contribute further.

How sad that so many charities now stoop to such emotional blackmail and aggressive strategy to get the arm in. From cold calling coercion to chuggers on the street, they're all at it.

But those beggars on the street, they're different aren't they? Well, yes. And maybe, no. There has undoubtedly been an upsurge in the numbers of the genuinely homeless. People camping in shop doorways. Nobody is disputing for a second that these people need help.

But if you're downtown regularly of an evening you will also be aware of young men in sleeping bags strategically parked around the more popular corners of the busy Cathedral Quarter.

Who are these boys lying on our streets? Why are we not asking more questions about them and how they are being treated? It isn't uncharitable to ask these questions. Actually the easy thing is to drop the coin in their outstretched hand (and I've done it myself) and walk on. And not to think too much about who, in the end, really gets that money.

And who is being used - pitifully, cynically used - in order to rake it in.

Help farmers bring home the bacon

In times past Europe had many odd mountains and fabulous lakes. There once were butter and cheese mountains. And even (although I don't know where it went) a wine lake.

Now apparently there's a pork stockpile. Not quite the same thing as a full-blown Mont Bacon, but seemingly getting there. It appears to be the result of sanctions against Mr Putin regarding his actions in Ukraine.

Pig farmers here are among those concerned that local prices will be depressed as a result. What can the Government do? It could, I suppose, encourage more sausage consumption. Urge the population to pig out?

When did they change the Brand to Charlotte?

Fashions come and go in all spheres. Even in the world of protest. Not so long ago the chief concern of the celebrity world was the environment.

That poor polar bear on his diminishing ice floe is sadly now passe. Apart from the Pope there are few friends of the earth these days. And Making Poverty History is also history.

Today, it's all anti-austerity. Even here things move apace.

Russell Brand - having failed to swing the election for Ed - is no longer the voice of his own revolution.

Bizarrely that's now the Voice of an Angel, Charlotte Church. Who saw that one coming?

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