"Often when I've been walking through town and have passed a beggar or some lowly tramp, I instinctively find my hand going down inside my pocket to extract a coin. Then I stop myself and ask, 'Do they really need it?' and begin to instantly think about those professional beggars, who as a life choice, reportedly earn hundreds of pounds a day simply by holding out their hand to busy passers by. The really clever ones who want to tug at your heart strings will often be seen with a pet dog at their side, invariably hungry at mouth and also in want of grooming.
I have read that begging is becoming more prevalent on our streets day by day and that just as some poor migrants may pay thousands of pounds to smuggle themselves into Great Britain in the back of a truck, the professional beggars in our large cities even pay hefty amounts for lessons in begging that would have Fagin blushing.
Successful begging is much more difficult than it looks. Contrary to popular belief, it is an art form that takes years of dedicated rehearsal and practise to master. All good beggars can pull appropriate faces to match all occasions and are in short, nothing less than film stars of our streets.
How then do we know when to give and when to withhold and who is really in need or who is merely in want of easy funds? The simple answer is that we don't, and therefore have to depend upon our mood and judgement.
I once recall walking through Manchester with my mother as a child. During our walk we passed a tramp and he begged the price of a cup of tea off my mother as we drew closer. Without second thought, she opened her purse and gave him half a crown. Having barely enough money to feed her family for the week, I instantly berated my mother, saying that the money she had foolishly given would be spent on beer and not on tea. I will never forget her reply, 'You're probably right, Billy. He's probably in the pub now.' (She also mentioned something about him doing something up against a wall, if I recall correctly).
'If you think that, then why did you give it?' I asked in exasperation.
'Because if I didn't, I'd never sleep tonight! The first time I stop to think that the next beggar who holds out his hand isn't genuinely in need, I will not give, and he may just be one of the few who is. Then where would I be?' she replied.
I'll tell you Mum; in heaven where you deserve to be!" William Forde: February 1st, 2015.