Spa town where ‘fake’ beg­gars get £200 a day

Daily Mail - - Confidential - By Andy Dolan

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.’

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