As The Big Issue celebrates 200 million sales, I couldn’t help but thinking about the stigma surrounding the people that sell it. It’s overbearing and may stop people from buying it. There may be interest there to buy it, but some may be stopped in their tracks. The only analogy I can think of is when people walk into the adult section of Ann Summers – there’s a nervousness in your belly and that stops some people. It’s nowhere near enough the level of stigma of course, but there is some stigma attached to the situation I mentioned above.
I love The Big Issue – I may be biased, but it’s an amazing piece of magazine journalism from front to back. There’s also an online website filled with amazing journalism too. The magazine and website has featured interviews with Richard Gere, Benedict Cumberbatch and many other celebrities as well as MPs and more – and that’s not the only reason to enjoy it!
You may also have seen the story about Big Issue vendor Jack Richardson marrying Toni Osborne – if you haven’t you can read about it here. People who are homeless are human – just like everyone else. They have feelings, thoughts and ideas. It’s not a “us” versus “them”. It’s a we, it must be a “we” or at least it should be.
But despite this, there seems to be a stigma surrounding the Big Issue and the people who sell it – and it’s unfair.
Some people walk by ignoring vendors with their eyes down, pretending not to notice. Some people shake their heads and acknowledge the vendor and some people politely decline or strike up a conversation with their local vendor.
But what’s the big issue with The Big Issue?
Firstly, I want to break down what the Big Issue is.
It was founded by John Bird and was launched in 1991.
The Big Issue website says: “We currently work with around 2000 individuals across the UK offering them the opportunity to earn a legitimate income; to ‘help them to help themselves’.
“It currently circulates around 100,000 copies every week.
Vendors undergo an induction process and sign up to a code of conduct.
“They are allocated a pitch and issued with a number of free copies of the magazine.
“Earning an income is the first step on the journey away from poverty and The Big Issue Foundation, a registered charity, exists to link vendors with vital support and services.”
Big Issue vendors are trying to make money, but it depends on their customers – YOU!
Being a vendor is a job, so the people you see are employed and aren’t begging.
The vendors you see buy the magazine for £1.25 and sell it for £2.50. It’s a micro-business – and a good one at that.
But people don’t see the magazine, they see the person selling it first.
It’s common knowledge that the people who are selling the magazine are homeless or have been unemployed on a long term basis. That’s where the stigma lies, I think. Homelessness has a huge stigma. Some people may think of negative connotations associated with homelessness – drugs, alcohol, dirtiness, begging… I could go on.
My local vendors where I live are impeccable in their dress and personality. I don’t know anything about their story.
They greet people and smile when they are declined and say thank you and wish you a good day. I’ve never had a proper conversation with them and I hope to, as I want to do my photography project on them as they are part of the community in the city I live in.
Anyone who is homeless is part of the community. Big Issue vendors are part of the community – of the UK, of their region and of the city they live in.
To add to that, their Big Issue jacket cannot be missed and that’s a good thing. I can’t miss them, which means I can always direct my smile to them when I’m out and about.
I don’t hold any stigma towards Big Issue vendors – at all and neither should anyone. I can’t stress that vendors are probably homeless through no fault of their own.
Unfortunately, I know people stare when someone stops to talk to a vendor – and that’s where my social anxiety comes in. It’s nerve-wracking, but I will do it.
As you may know, I did an internship at a local charity called Depaul UK North, which is part of the national charity, Depaul UK. I worked on the communications team, but I did come into contact with young people who are homeless and it was heart-breaking to see. It was so difficult to hear their stories and from then, I knew I needed to raise awareness of homelessness and what the Big Issue does.
I must admit that although I’ve never bought the Big Issue, I’m a huge reader of the website – and there’s nothing wrong with that.
There shouldn’t be a big issue with The Big Issue, but there is.
For me there’s no big issue but it seems
the big issue is with The Big Issue is stigma – and we need to lessen it.
So, next time you see a vendor in the street, why not strike up a conversation, get to know them and buy a magazine.
You may be pleasantly surprised!