I love The Big Issue so much. I really do. I’ve written about them before on this blog, and I doubt this time will be the last. In fact, when I met with some of The Big Issue team last year to learn about the work they were doing with Bristol Energy, it was one of the only times in my life I felt starstruck. I’ve read The Big Issue for well over a decade, and it is a great honour to support them in any way I can.
Who are The Big Issue?
The Big Issue began nearly 29 years ago. Founder John Bird knew from personal experience of sleeping rough, plus talking to homeless people, that they wanted to do anything other than beg. Gordon Roddick (husband of Body Shop founder Anita Roddick) gave Bird money from the Body Shop Foundation to start The Big Issue in 1991. At the time there were 500 homeless organisations in London alone, however there was no initiative focused on giving homeless people a way of making their own money.
What we said was: “If you’re going to help, you have to involve the homeless in their own redemption.” And that’s how the Big Issue transformed the homeless sector in this country.
Now, nearly 30 years on, The Big Issue has proved to be key to supporting the most vulnerable people in the UK. They have actively supported the homeless community through The Big Issue magazine. Sellers buy their copies at cost value, sell them for a set higher price and take home the profit, and so those in poverty or facing homelessness can set up small businesses and find meaningful work.
The sales force for The Big Issue can be unpredictable. Vendors may come and go, or face multiple issues. No matter what, The Big Issue has always been there, steadfast, for those who need them. Now one of the biggest street papers in the world, they have helped well over 100,000 people so far, sold over 200 million copies, and on average have put £5m into the pockets of vendors every year. At the same time, they have run campaigns on issues such as protecting local libraries, improving literacy, asking policymakers to consider future generations in their work, and many more important causes. They have always been there to support those who society often ignores.
Why do they need our help?
The entire business model of The Big Issue is based on sellers working on the streets. It’s a model that many sellers love, as they are able to be on their feet, doing something practical and talking to people. Unfortunately, it’s also a model that has been rendered impossible in our current climate. The changing nature of selling the magazine has been in discussion for a while, as The Big Issue has put plans in place for an increasingly cashless society (getting sellers card readers) or the increase in digital consumption over print. But no one could anticipate something this immediate.
As soon as the government ordered an end to “non-essential contact”, The Big Issue decided to stop its vendors from selling the magazine. Overnight, they needed to come up with a new plan. The Big Issue has 2000 vendors, many of which are described as “highly vulnerable” rough sleepers with underlying health conditions. Its average weekly circulation was around 78,000 in 2019, which is a lot of income to immediately come to a halt.
The Big Issue needs to be kept alive in order to support its vendors, as well as to sustain the numerous campaigns it has worked on over the years that have saved lives and supported those most in need.
What can we do to help?
Even at home, there are things we can do. The Big Issue is aiming to get 60,000 people to subscribe for weekly home delivery for three months (It costs £32.50, which is roughly £2.70 per week). This figure was chosen because it’s on the low side of the average weekly circulation, but it will be enough to keep everything afloat. Proceeds from subscriptions, alongside any other sales or donations, will be split 50/50 between the magazine and vendors, in keeping with the usual model.
You can also buy the digital version of the magazine here, download the app from the Apple store here (Soon to be available on Google Play) or donate directly here (if you’re working from home, why not donate the cost of your commute during this time?)
By subscribing or supporting the magazine you support The Big Issue’s work to
- Create supported employment opportunities for vulnerable people in the subscription fulfilment team
- Better support the network of 2000 street-based Big Issue sellers – all profits are reinvested to increase The Big Issue’s capacity to help the most vulnerable
- More effectively deliver The Big Issue’s mission to dismantle poverty and create opportunity