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Beggar’s bank pet

06/09/2013

Putney

One of the downsides of using social media is that newspaper articles that you wouldn’t ordinarily give the time of day to occasionally pop up in your timeline or news feed. So it was this week with an article on the Daily Mail’s website about a London beggar. Usually I don’t go anywhere near the malicious Mail or its public transport littering freebie sister tabloid the Metro. Not even when I’m in the queue at the barbers and they’re the only papers left. The fear of anyone or anything that is remotely “different” seeps through every page. It’s propaganda for people who’d prefer to live in the Britain of 1954. But I couldn’t resist clicking on this story when I spotted it doing the rounds a few times.

It’s about a bloke called Simon Wright who for the last few years has been begging for money outside a branch of NatWest bank on Putney High Street in south west London scruffily dressed and accompanied by his dog and a sign declaring himself as homeless despite the fact that he lived in nearby Fulham. In May he was found guilty of fraud and given an Asbo banning him from begging in London and from entering SW15 (the postcode for Putney and Roehampton). Last week he was arrested in Putney for breaching the Asbo and faces a prison sentence.

That’s it really, a sad tale. When it comes to issues of “fraud”, particularly in the London area, I’d like to think that there are bigger fish to fry. And I’m no expert on mental health problems but I suspect that someone who sits outside, on a daily basis, in all weathers falsely declaring themselves to be homeless could probably do with the assistance of the NHS rather than an Asbo. The Asbo clearly hasn’t worked as he’s breached it less than a month after it was issued. Perhaps a more thoughtful response is in order.

Typically the Mail has a very different take on it all. The story goes on about how he “raked in” £300 per day whilst living in a plush “£300,000 council flat”. Trust the Mail to know the value of his home. Scratch beneath the surface of the story and it appears, from those who worked in local shops where he cashed up, that £300 was the most that he collected in a single day. I daresay an average day was well below that but, hey, let’s not let this ruin a good story.

Apparently “he deliberately targeted people making cash withdrawals” and locals were “mightily relieved to see this unpleasant individual given his marching orders” as “many people felt frightened and intimidated by him”. There was even “some evidence” that he used his dog to pressure people into giving cash. Crikey, who’d have thought it eh? People are more willing to give cash to someone on the street if there’s a furry creature involved. The issuing of an Asbo was a “very positive result for Putney” declared a police officer. One “duped commuter” said that he’d given this man about £20 over the last few years and asked “I wonder if I can get that back?”

Invariably I find myself looking at the comments sections at the end of pieces like this. This time I trudged through a handful of remarks and clicked away before I lost faith in humanity entirely. There was just enough time to see a couple of witty observations along the lines of “we’re in the wrong job aren’t we?”. Hilarious stuff. Like we’d all love to pack our jobs in and sit in the town centre begging for money in our scruffs. And someone chipped in that they couldn’t believe this bloke was only thirty seven from the picture that appeared with the story. Yeah, well, I guess exfoliation and conditioner didn’t feature too high up his list of priorities. It all neatly summed up two of the biggest obsessions of the Mail; money and physical appearance.

The subtext running through this story, of course, is that we should all stop giving money to beggars on the street. Remember what we told you about handing over that cash? They’re only going to waste it on fags and booze or, even worse, drugs. They’re all on drugs you know. And this story simply reinforces the view that beggars are not to be trusted. Except that it’s not that straight forward is it. Sadly it’s virtually impossible to walk anywhere in central London these days without coming across someone begging for money. To brush them all off as fraudulent and refuse to give them any money simply panders to the worst aspects of human nature. There are many casualties from the economic downturn of the last few years and some of these people have ended up on the streets with nothing at all. Even if we’d prefer to walk on by and not hand over any loose change, organisations like Shelter and the Big Issue deserve support in these hard times.

And maybe there’s a lesson here for us all from this “duped commuter”. Why don’t we all start showing a bit more interest in what happens to our hard earned cash after all our transactions on the high street. How about that fancy top you’ve just bought? What does it say there on the tag? Made in Bangladesh. Hmmm. Where does the money go from that loaf of bread you bought yesterday? What about that account with a bank that funds foreign drug cartels? How about we turn our attention to the bookmakers and payday loan firms who increasingly infest the high streets of low income areas? Are they not as deliberately calculating and equally as “intimidating” as Simon Wright in their quest to part locals from their hard earned cash?

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From → London, Politics

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