Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Begging in the 21st century!

We have a new beggar outside the supermarket next door. He’s not very efficient as beggars go: no badly written notice, no whine, no hangdog expression, merely a weary lean against the wall and the sudden realisation that he should stick his collecting box out so that passersby know he is not just waiting for a friend to come out of the store.

Since the new, bigger Mercadona opened at the other end of the street we have fewer beggars here. And as for “Soy muy pobre”, the young woman who was always here for several years, she seems to have moved on.

I read about a new problem for beggars and sellers of the Big Issue on the streets of the UK. More and more people are telling them, in response to a request for spare change or an attempt to sell them the newspaper, that they have no cash on them as they only ever use their card.

 This is common across the board. Cash payments, I read, are in steep decline across Britain. In 2006, coins and notes were used for 62% of all transactions. Last year that fell to 40%, and by 2026 cash is expected to account for only 21% of purchases. I have seen people pay by card, especially contactless, which is so easy, for items costing less than one pound. My daughter-in-law, like the queen, rarely carries cash on her person.

Now, one Big Issue seller I read about has responded to this trend by buying himself a contactless card reader. He has seen his sales of the Big Issue increase. The problem was not that people did not want to buy, it was that they really did not have cash with them. I have to confess that my first reaction was to wonder how this could be. Surely, I reflected, to be a Big Issue salesperson you were supposed to be homeless. For the card reader to work you needed a bank account but to open a bank account you need to have an address. Catch 22 strikes again!

But then, I went on to think, nowadays there must be a fair number of people who have been made homeless but who still have their bank account from more fortunate times. You even hear of homeless people who are in employment, not very well paid but still employed. Some of them live in, and out of, their car. They are often still members of a gym and so manage to shower at the gym before work. Some move around from friend to friends, sleeping on sofas or in spare rooms. So, yes, a Big Issue seller with a card reader is not as strange as it seemed at first.

Charitable organisations are doing it too. An organisation in Bristol called the Rough Sleeping Partnership was looking for a “modern fundraising solution” to keep night shelters for the homeless open. So they tried out setting up two contactless donation centres in a local shopping district. “Come rain or shine, the terminals would receive donations of £2 and provide information about Streetlink, an outreach programme for rough sleepers. “From May to November [the terminals] raised, on average, £370 each a month,” explains one of their workers. “That’s considerably more than a small cash collection tin would have been able to do.” A third terminal has since been installed on the city’s waterfront. They are already fielding inquiries on how to install new donation points from interested parties up and down the UK. “It’s new technology,” says their spokesperson, “but I think it’s within the grasp of all charities to be able to embrace it and see if it works for them.”

Such is modern life!

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