Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Let the beggars be

There has been a fair bit of publicity recently about people begging on the streets of our major cities. This may seem odd to overseas readers because beggars are a constant fact of life in most cities internationally but in New Zealand they are a fairly recent phenomenon. The fact that the growth of begging has been at a time when the New Zealand economy has been enjoying relatively strong growth and the Government has been increasing welfare benefits suggests the problem is not primarily an economic one.

Retailers have observed that the beggars who station themselves outside their shops appear to be highly organised, with prime spots allocated on a rotational basis and 'rent' charged by minders who manage the territory. Many of the beggars do not appear to be impoverished and most of them will be receiving state welfare benefits and not declaring the income they 'earn' from begging.

Wellington property investor Bob Jones has called for them to be banned. The libertarian in me says that would be an unnecessary state intrusion into what should be a free interaction between the panhandlers and those who are happy to give to them. I suppose my view is influenced by the fact that in my youth I found myself literally penniless on the streets of a foreign city and was faced with the prospect of having to beg to survive. It would be a heartless and oppressive society indeed that forbid people from asking others for help.

I draw the line at the point the beggars become a nuisance or adopt threatening tactics to obtain alms and I don't think taxpayers should be paying them welfare benefits when they are topping up their incomes (quite generously in my observation) from begging. But mostly they are harmless and we should let them be.

No comments: