Spa town where ‘fake’ beggars get £200 a day
IT IS a town known for its grand Regency buildings, immaculate parks and, of course, its spa water.
But Royal Leamington Spa is also developing a rather unwanted reputation for the number of fake beggars on its Georgian parades – with some making up to £200 a day out of wealthy locals, according to a homeless charity.
The figure is equivalent to a tax-free annual salary of £52,000 a year if they were to beg five days a week – nearly double the average salary in Britain of £27,600.
Residents say the rise in begging – a problem plaguing communities across Britain – has increased since the Warwickshire town was last year ranked the happiest place to live in Britain.
The Helping Hands charity in Leamington is now urging residents not to give beggars money because it fuels alcohol and drug addiction.
Chairman Lianne Kirkman said: ‘Sadly, people can earn up to £200 a day on the streets in Leamington and then this money regularly gets used to feed an addiction.
‘As a rule we say avoid giving money to any individual and instead direct them to local services where they can be helped in a better way. If the money can also be directed to local charities, it means we can continue our work to help people off the streets.’
As well as Helping Hands’ services, support for homeless in the town includes two night shelters, a church soup kitchen and a Salvation Army drop-in centre.
Stacey Calder, 35, who volunteers with Helping Hands, said: ‘I’ve had people tell me they earn up to £200 a day – this isn’t a made up figure by the charity. I’ve also had people tell me they come to Leamington because it’s where people will give the most.’
Businessman Thomas Franks, 45, estimated there had been a tenfold increase in the number of beggars in the town in the past year. ‘It’s got to the stage that there are rough sleepers almost every few yards and you suspect that not all of them are homeless,’ he said.
Warwickshire Police has also reported an increase in begging and has joined the district council and business leaders in backing ‘Killing with Kindness’ campaigns that try to persuade people not to give money to beggars.
It is a problem facing cities and towns across the country. A businessman in Torquay, Devon, succeeded in driving out professional beggars by photographing them and threatening to name and shame anyone found to have a home and benefits.
Police in Ely, Cambridgeshire, recently warned locals that all beggars there were bogus, while a homeless charity in Cardiff has introduced a contactless card donation point in the city centre to offer shoppers an alternative to giving cash to beggars who may prove to be fake.
Michael Andrews, 43, who lost his parents and grandparents to cancer, begs in Leamington. He said there was a group of fake beggars who have homes and benefits, but dismissed suggestions people on the streets could pocket large sums.
Saying he’d been given less than £5 after seven hours begging, Mr Andrews added: ‘It’s ludicrous to suggest people are earning £200 a day doing this. If I was getting anywhere near that money I would be using it to pay for a hotel, not sitting here on the pavement.’