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Ian Gordon

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Where social welfare is provided by the government, people should not give money to beggars.

No-one wants to see beggars on the street. These people need help and there should be organisations, whether public or private, that deal with the problem compassionately and effectively.
If individuals give money to beggars, it perpetuates the practice of begging and does not handle the root problems that need to be addressed.
If someone is concerned about homelessness, they can petition their government representative, or join an organisation that provides shelter. But to had over cash to beggars just means the beggar will be there tomorrow. Also, more often than not, the money is spent on alcohol or drugs, so it is not helpful. Sometimes, a beggar has a hostel place and uses begging for extra money - I've seen it first hand.
So, don't give to beggars, direct them to the relevant organisation so they can get proper, sustained help. If there is inadequate support for destitute people, campain to improve this, but again, don't give cash to street beggars.
As a final point, I've seen parents using their kids to go begging. This is even worse. What a terrible message to give to kids, but people give them money for just holding their hand out and looking sad. In wealthy western countries, it's unnecessary and actually harmful.

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    Aug 4 2011: What about the Buddhist monks? Do you make a religious exemption
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      Aug 7 2011: Oh, just realized I haven't answered this question yet - apologies for delay. If someone wanted to support a buddhist monk on a spiritual journey, I wouldn't have a problem with that. Although I question such religious behaviour, I don't think the monk, or perhaps nun, considers himself or herself to have a problem, but actually welcomes the mendicant life as a means to explore other realities - but I'm no expert on this. In this case, I wouldn't see the donation as causing the perpetuation of a problem, but rather aiding someone to complete a journey. I'm cautious about this, as one exception can lead to justification for others and so on, but more importantly, I'm not advocating a rule to never give money to anyone for anything, but rather suggesting that if one wants to donate money to something, donate to something you consider worthwhile, after consideration of how the money will be used and the good it will do. If giving to beggars solved their problems, I'd be all for it, but I'm sure it doesn't. Besides, what some people call giving is really just easing their conscience by shedding a bit of loose change they won't even notice. If someone wanted to help, I'd suggest choosing a worthwhile cause and setting up a direct debit to give, say, 10% of their income to it - that's what I would admire. There's a big difference. Or even get involved, hands on.

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