I’ve always been in two minds when giving money to people who beg in the streets. I am aware that some of those I pass by are part of organised gangs, yet seeing two people asleep in a doorway in the centre of Newcastle in the middle of the day, shoeless and lying under a filthy sleeping bag, tells me that homlessnes and rough sleeping are continuing and genuine problems.
They are problems that bring shame upon us as a civilised nation and leading global economic powerhouse. I get that homelessness is a highly complex issue but one we must make more effort to resolve.
What made me think about this though was the change in my pocket, or rather lack of it. If I had wanted to give the man who was outside the Station Hotel some change I couldn’t as I wasn’t carrying any. Indeed, most days I don’t carry any cash at all. Sometimes I don’t even take out my wallet and cards, relying on my phone to pay for everything instead. I know that I am not alone.
Where does this leave these poor people, genuine or not? Does the seemingly relentless drive towards a cashless society mean that their ability to raise money will disappear? I know that some of the Big Issue vendors are able to take electronic payments (I’m not suggesting for one moment that they are begging) but could this be a model for those less fortunate?
Would people be prepared to swipe their phone to help a rough sleeper? Indeed would anyone trust that the transaction was genuine and would go to the person anyway? I think not.
Business models are being disrupted and begging is likely to be no different. The decreasing amount of cash will put pressure on begging as a way to generate income. It could force beggars to leave the cities as rich pickings are no longer there, pushing them further underground and out of the eyes of the public.
It could also put pressure on those who rely more on a cash economy to give more of their income to those who beg.
The prospect of e-begging is an interesting concept and one that needs more thought. As I write this I am not sure whether it will be a force for good or bad. My understanding of humanity is that it will probably be both.