SPOTTING an apparently homeless person begging in the town centre is always an uncomfortable experience.
I admit I was slightly relieved yesterday when making my way back towards my car and there was no one camped on the ground in a particularly familiar spot.
I deliberately wrote ‘apparently homeless’ in my introduction because, let’s face it, that’s the question mark that always goes through our minds.
We’ve all heard stories of beggars collecting coppers, then going back to their cars and their semi-detached house. No doubt a few of them are true, but that is a gross misrepresentation of the general truth.
There’s also that nagging doubt of ‘if I give this guy a pound, what is he going to spend it on?’ Am I willing to help him buy his beer and/or cigarettes?
Add in the temptation to moralise and wonder how someone can get themselves in such a mess and any sympathy for the pathetic sight in front of me is gone.
In any case why should I give away money I have worked for? After all, money doesn’t appear from thin air (well, actually it does but more of that later).
Such thoughts are very much in my interest. After all, if I can find an excuse not to act, my cash stays in my pocket.
Imagine on the other hand there was a multi-millionaire standing in the street, asking passers-by to come and work for him or her.
Would I be bothered how this person had made their money? Does it matter to me if he or she has trampled upon everyone they have ever met if I can grab a bit of their riches?
There’s no way I’d query their income tax arrangements and, if I had to buy a couple of pints to get a hearing, I’d consider that money well spent.
And so one of the most damning features of modern day Britain goes on and on.
The vast majority of people consider themselves to be somewhere in the middle between the mega rich elite and a small minority of folk who have absolutely nothing – and we often hold onto the coat tails of the former and turn a blind eye to the latter.
We do so at our moral peril.
For the numbers of people in abject poverty is increasing daily in this the fifth largest economy in the world.
Speaking to a generously spirited woman the other day, the thorny subject of food banks was raised.
I recalled getting increasingly heated listening to a debate on Radio 5 Live a few weeks ago.
After a desperate soul had spoken extremely movingly about his plight that included losing his job, having to wait for benefit money to come through and being reduced to eating only when he had the means to afford it.
There followed a stream of patronising comments from fellow callers.
How could he get himself into such a state? Did he not save for a rainy day? Why not go to supermarkets late at night when prices are reduced – more than one, if necessary? Did we not know that food banks are abused by people who have got plenty of money but just want a freebie?
All the same reservations that go through my mind, to be fair, buy they sounded far worse coming from someone who clearly couldn’t give a damn.
The woman calmly reassured me that food banks are very strict on whom they give food to – she knows because she volunteers at one.
Then she told me about her daughter, a head teacher in a school, who comes across distressing levels of poverty among her pupils.
She sees that some do not have adequate food and/or clothing and she quietly does what she can.
She has bought shoes for children, then told them she found a spare pair in lost property.
I was inspired by talking with her – and challenged too.
I can’t do anything much to convince others to ignore those unkind thoughts and give to the poor.
But I can be more generous myself and that’s the point.