Sat, Feb 05, 2005 - Page 4 News List

Protesters decry beggars' plight

UNHAPPY POOR An alliance of advocates for the poor protested yesterday, demanding better policies from the government, and that Feb. 4 be made `Beggars' Day'

By Mo Yan-chih  /  STAFF REPORTER

Charles Fang, organizer of the Alliance of Taiwan Beggars, holds up a begging bowl during the group's demonstration outside the Executive Yuan yesterday. The alliance wants the government to take more note of the plight of the poor.

PHOTO: SEAN CHAO, TAIPEI TIMES

A group of advocates for the poor from various walks of life protested yesterday against the government, saying that a lack of enlightened policies is responsible for what they say is a growing number of people living in poverty.

The group's key goals are to establish public cafeterias to help feed the poor and to mark Feb. 4 as an annual "beggar's holiday" to bring attention to their plight.

A small contingent of petitioners from various walks of life gathered in front of the Executive Yuan yesterday, holding placards that read "Beggars will not commit suicide if they are fed" and "Beggars are not a burden to the society, they do not damage public security."

Charles Fang (方正平), organizer of the group, urged the government to create policies to deal with the problems of what he called the "new poverty" era.

"The problems of the new poverty [era], including low pay and long-term unemployment, have become a social plague in Taiwan," Fang said.

Solutions Needed

He cited the food stamp program in the US -- in which the government distributes coupons to the poor that can be exchanged for food -- as one such policy.

"The government could establish free public cafeterias to feed the poor and satisfy their basic needs," Fang suggested.

"The government should face this problem and find practical solutions."

The group also asked the government to name Feb. 4 as Beggar's Day. By highlighting the plight of beggars on that day near the Lunar New Year holidays, the issue of poverty will not be ignored, petitioners said.

In response to the petition, the Executive Yuan said that it will turn it over to related departments and handle it according to the rules.

Wide Gap

According to statistics from the Minister of Interior (MOI) in 2003, the annual disposable income of the wealthiest Taiwanese households is 100 times higher than that of the poorest.

The average annual disposable income of the poorest group, which contains about 700,000 families, is NT$220,000.

According to Fang, who is a freelance programmer, recently publicized cases of suicide resulting from unemployment or poverty motivated him and a small group of people to become advocates for those who suffer from poverty.

The group said they will register with the MOI after the Lunar New Year holidays and form a beggar's association.

Aside from raising public awareness of the issue, the group said it would also aim to encourage the poor to be "happy" beggars, instead of committing crimes or suicide.

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