Give and take
Head to head Should you give money to beggars? Of course, they need it, says former down-and-out Julian Randal. Never, says Jacob Rees- Mogg, it's just middle-class guilt
Saturday 27 February 1999
"You should give money to beggars basically because they need it. It's better to give them money than have them creeping through your back door and robbing you or doing God knows what. Begging is need-driven, and those needs aren't going to disappear. There's this belief that people are begging because they can't be bothered to work. But who would sit on the street all day out of choice and beg. It's horrible, in the rain and the cold. How people can claim begging is a barrel of laughs and then go back to their warm houses in Surbiton I don't know.
I was at boarding school from the age of seven, at Winchester. The place fucked me up. I was adopted, so I didn't have much sense of who I was anyway. After doing my A-levels I went home to London. But I kept fighting with my mum and after a couple of months I left with a dossbag and lived on the streets and in boarding houses in Winchester. At one time I commuted to work in a hospital kitchen from a church doorstep. I only begged very occasionally. Nobody likes doing it. I used to have a few drinks first.
The tabloids give the impression that beggars earn a packet. The truth is you can always find some mug who'll say, `I earn pounds 300 a day.' But that isn't the reality. I never met anyone who made more than a few pounds. People wonder why they don't just go and get a job at McDonald's. But what do you earn at McDonald's? About pounds 3 an hour. That's about pounds 90 a week after tax. And what is rent in London? You can forget it. People say beggars will only spend the money on booze and drugs. Well, try sleeping on the pavement during winter. Without condoning the use of drugs, they certainly make the street a bit more comfortable.
I've gradually sorted my life out. Two years ago, I got a flat where I live with my girlfriend and her child. I'm now a student at the University of East London doing communication studies. I love it."
Julian Randal is researching homelessness as part of his degree, and writes for the `Big Issue'
"Giving money to beggars does more harm than good. While there are people who are genuinely in need, some are merely going to use the money to buy a bottle of gin, and if he drinks it all he'll be in a very bad way. And even if people are begging because they're needy, it is a voluntary activity because they could apply to the welfare agencies for benefit. The state-provided safety net is not lavish. You don't automatically get a council house; it may be a shelter or a move-on bed and breakfast. But there is a basic safety net that will provide some roof over people's heads.
Obviously people could spend social security on drinks and drugs, but at least they're then within some sort of system that might help them. If you give people a pound or two they collect the pounds to buy drugs, they're completely outside the system. There's nothing they can fall back on. They've got no regular contact with anybody in authority who could even put them in contact with a GP. Giving people money may act as a salve to middle-class consciences but it doesn't solve anything.
It's true I have a privileged background. I went to Eton and Oxford, and then to work at J Rothschild Capital Management. Contacts were certainly a factor, since my father was a non-executive director of the firm. I was fascinated with finance from a very young age. At 11 or 12 I got into the newspapers when I stood up and asked questions at a couple of shareholder meetings. I was by far the youngest person there. The story made the Mail, the Express and the Daily Mirror. I was slightly more greedy then because I charged them for the interviews. I got pounds 50 off the Daily Mail which was an awful lot of money then.
Julian [Randal] is obviously entitled to his views. I know him through mutual friends. He's a very nice chap."
Jacob Rees-Mogg is a fund manager at Lloyd George Management. He was the Conservative candidate for Fife East in the last election
Interviews by Cathy Cooper
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