Monday, 25 January 2010

The Bigger Issue

We have a few problems with The Big Issue magazine. It is sold with the slogan 'a help up, not a hand out', but just how true is this? For anyone unfamiliar with this magazine, The Big Issue is a magazine started by John A. Bird which is distributed by the homeless and hostel dwellers. The homeless take a cut of about 50-60p per issue, the rest of the money going into The Big Issue Trust for the running of the magazine and any projects the company want to operate. It has a good reputation but there are a few obvious problems with it.

Firstly, we don't know anyone who buys the magazine because they are loyal to the magazine, or because they thoroughly enjoy reading it. It doesn't make you laugh, its tediously written and we don't know anybody who likes it. Our experience of buying the Big Issue is that motive for buying it is charity, not interest in the magazine which is usually dull, uninteresting and irritating to read. We know that many people give a bit of money to the vendor and tell them to keep the magazine, so they obviously feel the same as we do.

Secondly, it is sold as a 'help up'. There is dignity in working, selling a magazine on the street, so it isn't a 'hand out'. This is how it is sold. But, the reality is a bit different. Big Issue vendors stand, often for hours in a day, often in rain, wind, snow, sleet, calling out 'Big Issue' to members of the public and waiting, hoping that someone will buy it. The amount of money the vendors make depends on how long they work. Having met a couple of vendors I know that they often work 10-12 hours a day, if not more.

It is not a guaranteed income and so they could stand there all day, make next to nothing and walk back to a hostel with change in their pocket. This is not dignity in work, this is tantamount to slavery. Meanwhile, the owner of The Big Issue, who professes to having been on the streets himself, having got off drugs and drink and become a successful social entrepreneur is rolling in it. Meanwhile, also, The Big Issue makes money from advertising, the rest of the cost price of the magazine and pays its writing, editorial and sales/marketing team substantial wages for producing the publication every week. This is how a good idea can go wrong. Those who sell the issue, in real terms, make peanuts, pittance out of selling it, nothing like a living wage, while the writers and workers and the owner make a lot of money.

This central injustice also affects the content of the magazine because it is true to say that the majority of the writers and editorial team have never experienced homelessness or had drug or drink problems which are often experienced by the homeless. At worse, The Big Issue makes slaves of the homeless and vulnerable who sell it, while writers and editors and the owner have the kind of salary of which the homeless can only dream. It is not a 'help up'. It isn't even much of a 'hand out'. A good magazine which addresses homelessness would be one which was written, produced and owned by the homeless and the marginalised, where their voices were heard instead of used to shout out 'Big Issue!' on street corners everyday in the rain, sun or snow, because frankly, a magazine written by the homeless would be better than The Big Issue, more interesting, probably funnier and more truthful than what is being presented at the moment.

Laurence England & George Horvath


Catholic with Attitude said...

I don't know whether it is true but I have been led to believe that there is a connection between the Big Issue and Abortion. I don't know whether the Big Issue supports abortion but that is what I heard. I often give them money but decline to take a copy or I just buy them something to drink.

The Bones said...

It wouldn't surprise me, CWA. The magazine is stridenly left-wing, perhaps even Marxist, yet suffers the usual trappings of champagne Marxists - anti-life, anti-system and eventually anti-the poor.

Unknown said...

I haven't heard of this magazine before- not sure if it available in the US. But from what you are saying it doesn't sound like I am missing anything. It wouldn't surprise me either if they were linked with abortion somehow- more organizations and companies are these days. It's ashame the poor need to rely on this as a means of income. I like CWA's idea of helping them.

Physiocrat said...

Boring politically correct neo-Marxist twaddle with a poor analysis of what is actually going in. I would never buy it.

There is plenty of room for something better. Incidentally, how much one earns depends on where one chooses one's pitch. This is a perfect illustration of Ricardo's Law of Rent, so the average BI seller should know more about economics than most university professors who have never seen this work out in practice. Because if they had, they would give advice to the government that would have kept us out of the present mess.

Richard Collins said...

I have never bought a copy of The Big Issue and never will.
Some of the causes it supports are decidedly anti Christian and the concept of giving the poor a magazine to sell is, frankly, patronising.
Most Big Issue sellers have all the trappings of a moderately wealthy lifestyle (fat dog, mobile phone, cups of Starbucks coffee etc).
I do not begrudge them that but they should not be "begging" if they have these things.
I also dislike being accosted every few yards along the road.
Gosh....that hit a raw nerve this morning!Sorry Laurence.

The Bones said...

My main problem with it is ownership.

Crux Fidelis said...

The Big Issue vendors in my area seem to be mostly Roma. There is one local guy who has been selling it for around ten years now. I find it hard to believe that he hasn't found a place to stay after all this time as there is plenty of vacant council housing.

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