Welcome to the online diary of the “London Ziegs,” as they journal their experiences relocating from the balmy climes of sunny Orlando, Florida to the more chaotically cosmopolitan environment of London, UK!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?

I wasn't really surprised at the number of panhandlers we've encountered around London. After all, southeast England is remarkably overpopulated, especially with recent immigrants who've come seeking work (yes, I appreciate the irony). So there was nothing unexpected about being approached once or twice a day by mothers beseeching "money for the baby", men crouched under subways asking "spare change, gov'nor?" and the like.

However, it did occur to me this week that, "hey, doesn't this country have 'council care'? Don't the British provide free housing, free food, free health-care, and a [comparative] wealth of other support services for the poor, aged, and disabled?" Well, yes, a co-worker explained, but there is apparently a gap in the system. In order to receive public assistance, applicants need to have a documented residence address; the truly homeless fall through the cracks and are reduced to direct begging.

So that makes sense. And I admit I have trouble turning away a woman with a tiny child in her arms, as many seem to. But I also remember those [again, comparatively] huge taxes they ax from my take-home, and wonder if some of that could not count as a tangible moral credit for the day.

It's hard to balance these questions honestly in one's mind, especially on the spur-of-the-moment, when you have to admit it is quite chilly out, and you know you do have a few quid clinking about in your pocket, but dynamic determination of whether those can legitimately be considered "spare" would require an on-the-spot analysis in Excel that still doesn't run on your iPod. And what are you doing moralizing when you've got a bloody iPod in your pocket, eh?

(Although I confess to being rather taken aback by the begger who rejected a Canadian dollar which had somehow made its way into my pocket, and demanded that I change it for proper British currency...)

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