Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Poverty is a crime

I remember meeting an old woman sitting on the ground outside the back of Lidl's in Leith.

I felt sorry for her. That must be one of the worst pitches there is.

My dad would always tell me very fiercely never under any circumstances to give to beggars because it would only encourage them.

My poor dad did everything he could to bring me up in the way he thought fit. One of the insights I owe to him is that it's often best to listen to his advice and then do the opposite.

I was using a stick in those days and my purse was in my rucksack and I had to take it off and fumble around and try to keep my stick from falling to the ground. Which it did anyway.

So the first lesson this lady taught me was to keep coins in my coat pockets so it's easy to give them away.

The second lesson was much more important. It came when I said hello and gave her the coin. She looked at me and smiled the most beautiful smile. Full of wisdom and a kind of mischievous humour that was just lovely to see.

And I went away feeling sad at all the gifts this woman so clearly possessed that were not being employed properly and that we were not as a society benefiting from because we were forcing her to beg in the street.

I was reminded of her by the sad news of the death of a man called Dan who used to be at the top of the steps up from Waverley station and who I always looked out for whenever I had to catch a train. He had a nice face and a lovely manner to him. He had great dignity and a positive energy in spite of the difficulties of his situation,.

It was good to be in his presence and he gave me something, even in the moment that it took to give him a coin and wish him well.

George Bernard Shaw said poverty was a crime, and he was right. All the more so in this disgusting society where no-one need suffer poverty or want.

And I think of Dan with anger and with sadness, as I think of all the other men and women being forced by a wicked economic system to sit out in the cold. Of the waste of their talents and gifts. Of our collective and unnecessary loss.

One of the many painful things about encountering people begging in the street is my sense of my own apparent helplessness. The fact that in the end I seem unable to make it better.

But I won't think of that. Whenever I go out I'll remember to make sure that the pockets of my coat have a least a few pound coins.
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