The Big Issue is the world’s most widely circulated magazine that was birthed in UK. Inspired by Street News, a magazine sold by the homeless in US, it offers homeless people in UK, long time unemployed people, people marginalized by society and just about anyone whose life is blighted by poverty, an opportunity to move away from the streets by earning a legit income by selling this magazine and working themselves out of homelessness.
It kvells in the fact, it’s ‘a handup, not a handout’. Vendors BUY copies for £1.25 and sell for £2.50. They are working, not begging.
Started in 1991, the magazine 25 years later is synonymous with challenging, independent journalism and popular for securing exclusive interviews with the most elusive of superstars. It currently circulates around 100,000 copies a week.
The Big Issue Vendors are allocated a pitch or location, normally around a tube or train station and first issued with a number of free copies of the magazine. Last year alone more than £5 million was put into the pockets of the vendors, releasing them from dependence on handouts and providing a decent alternative to begging.
And the buck doesn’t stop there. The Big Issue Foundation, charity arm of The Big Issue supports vendors in gaining control of their lives by tackling the many issues that lead to homelessness and offers a smorgasbord of services.
Created as a business solution to a social problem, The Big Issue has inspired other street papers in more than 120 countries, leading a global self-help revolution. There are 9 Big Issue projects by the same name today in Australia, France, Japan, Kenya, Korea, Malawi, South Africa, Taiwan, Zambia.
Meet the man who started it all, John Bird who himself homeless at age of 5, was last year made a life peer at the House of Lords, appointed Member of Order of the British Empire (MBE) for his ‘services to homeless people’ and awarded the Beacon Fellowship Prize for his tireless energy and originality in raising awareness of homelessness and supporting homeless communities worldwide.
In his editorial, John pulls no punches when he says, “I’m trying to invent a philosophy of dismantling poverty, rather than keeping the poor comfortable” and exhorts any buyer to always TAKE the copy of the magazine since “it is a bloody good read and our sellers are working and need your custom”. Ne’er truer said!
Bhaskar Dutta is a writer and IT specialist based in London.