Culture Opinion

The Big Issue

I could spend £2.50 at the pub. Or…

You’ve seen those Big Issue magazines, right? And probably wondered what’s actually in them?

Well, everything.

Political opinions and insights, independent journalism (is there a link between dementia and spicy food?), events in your area like writers’ exhibitions, exclusive interviews (only the likes of Robert Downey Jr, Ed Sheeran, Will.i.am, Emeli Sandé, The Dalai Lama… I mean, who even are these people?), book reviews, street art, crosswords and sudoku (you know you secretly enjoy them when you get going), Big Issue updates and vendor interviews, charity appeals…

Right. So, what is The Big Issue?

The answer is: a whole lot of good.

Founded by John Bird and Gordan Roddick, The Big Issue Group was started in 1991 to provide employment opportunities to people who are homeless or vulnerably accommodated. With their own money, vendors buy Big Issue magazines for £1.25 each and sell them for £2.50. People living in poverty are given the chance to proudly work, not beg. Vendors are not treated like charity cases, but people who want a platform to make a positive change in their lives. With the magazines and flexible hours, they are in control of their own finances and given the chance to be independent once again. Good sales can rebuild confidence and interactions with customers allows vendors to meet different types of people and hopefully initiates reintegration into society. 

How much of a problem is homelessness right now?

Homelessness in the U.K is incredibly high at the moment.

Rough sleeping has rocketed in the U.K. by 165% since 2010. An estimated 4677 people are sleeping rough across England on any given night. This does not even account for the numberless homeless people not included in official statistics, such as those who sleep on night buses. According to Crisis, people who sleep on the street are 9 times more likely to kill themselves than the general population. And on top of that, a Guardian investigation showed that the number of homeless camps forcibly removed by councils has trebled in the past 5 years. Please see the end of this article for sources.

We have to do something, right?

What else does The Big Issue Group do to counter homelessness, and poverty in general?

Firstly, there’s The Big Issue Foundation. This is brilliant. This independent charity connects vendors with specialist services to ultimately help them help themselves. Vendors are supported so they can access safe accommodation, addiction treatment programmes, and health services. The Foundation helps them reconnect with family, explore career opportunities, access education AND get IDs (a big obstacle for homeless people).

Next up is The Big Issue Invest. This is a social merchant bank which provides investment for businesses that work to end poverty. They are currently managing/advising on £170million worth of finance.

Finally, The Big Issue Shop sells products that put the planet first. By shopping here, you create a ‘social echo’. If you’re also concerned about the fact that the world is ending (quite soon, it seems), The Big Issue Shop is a good place to start on the road towards a type of consumerism that doesn’t contribute to climate change.

Homelessness and other forms of poverty are not going away by themselves. Big changes need to be made surrounding the fundamental causes of homelessness. 

But as individuals, we can contribute to organisations that help when we do get the chance. 

To find out more information…

Go to https://www.bigissue.com where you can read all about the work The Big Issue does, listen to vendors’ stories and hear about the future of the group, such as contactless payment methods!

To become a Big Issue vendor…

If you are homeless or facing homelessness, visit your local distribution office. The team offers training and ongoing support. You’ll get the first five magazines for free so you can sell straight away.

Sources:
The Big Issue: https://www.bigissue.com

https://www.crisis.org.uk/ending-homelessness/about-homelessness/

BBC Rough sleeping: What is being done about homelessness? https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-46976241

The Guardian: Removal of homeless camps trebles as charities warn ‘out of control’ crisis: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/jun/17/removal-of-homeless-camps-trebles-as-charities-warn-of-out-of-control-crisis

Disclaimer for Londoners: £2.50 won’t even get you half a pint in most London pubs. But it will get you a copy of The Big Issue. 

Becky Whant

Rebecca Whant is an opinion writer for The Oxford Blue. She is studying English at St Edmund Hall College and will hopefully go on to become a lawyer. As well as the UK, Rebecca is originally from The Seychelles.