Sunday 10 March 2019

Begging pays in London

I always feel very sorry for beggars, except the obviously professional ones, though I know one should not give them money, but give the money instead to people who work with the destitute. People in Bucharest like Sister Rose Carmel.

I read an interesting story in the Sunday Telegraph today. Ed Stafford, an explorer and former British Army captain, who slept rough for several weeks and made a film for the British TV Station Channel Four called 60 Days on the Streets, started with “no preconceived ideas” but found that begging is “more lucrative than I ever imagined”

He put on a stone (5 kg.) because kindly passers-by gave him sandwiches and fast food. In London, he said, beggars can make up to £200 in one night “which is more than the average person earns in work”.

I hear beggars in Bucharest often make good livings. An investigative journalist friend told me about thirteen years ago that beggars in the centre of Bucharest made about $300 a month, which in those days was above the average wage. A Pakistani friend (he was an economist and head of the World Bank here) told me begging is a scam.

Begging was unknown in the England in which I grew up and we thought of it as a nineteenth century phenomenon. It came back at almost exactly the time Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister. I and very many blamed this on her reforms. Many years later a Labour Party member at a Labour Party quiz night (I was taken to the Labour quiz by my right-wing cousin who said that the Conservatives were too thick to have good quizzes) put me right. She told me that research showed that begging came back into fashion around 1980 throughout Western Europe for reasons that are unknown.

Readers of Olivia Manning know that Bucharest was full of beggars before the war, but I have to find out about begging under Communism. Did it stop in the Stalin era?

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