People selling The Big Issue come from a range of backgrounds and unique circumstances – but they all have something in common: they are trying to work their way out of poverty.
Many vendors are homeless, or at risk of losing their home if they do not make enough money to pay rent and bills. Others have mental health problems which prevent them maintaining other jobs. Each has their own unique story. You can read about some of our vendors here, or better yet, chat to your local vendor and get to know them.
The main reason vendors sell the magazine is usually to make money. But selling The Big Issue provides much more than that. Each vendor is running their own micro-business, which means they have to manage their outgoing and profits, just like any other enterprise out there. Remember that vendors buy their magazines from The Big Issue for £1.25 each and sell them to their customers for £2.50 a time. They are working, not begging.
But besides gaining some money in their pocket, those with chaotic, unstable lives can often benefit from having structure to their day that working provides. Interacting with customers can boost self-confidence and develop skills that can lead to other jobs or improve magazine sales. The Big Issue offices where they pick up magazines are staffed by a distribution and outreach team that can help with problems they are facing and refer them to other agencies for further support.
The best way you can help a Big Issue vendor is to buy the magazine. That benefits the vendor and also ensures the magazine can continue to be there for other people who need the opportunity to get a hand up.
Some people give vendors some loose change, a sandwich or a cup of coffee. Their actions come from the right place, but are not always helpful. The aim of The Big Issue is to give people an opportunity to earn their own income so they do not have to rely on the charity of others. Depending on the whim of well-intentioned passers-by means a person can never obtain the stability or independence required from which to progress on their journey.
More generally, when it comes to giving money to homeless people on the street, that cash can result in keeping them on the streets, as they are less likely to engage with services which could help tackle the underlying issues that led to them becoming homeless in the first place.
But besides financial hardship, loneliness and isolation can be one of the biggest issues our vendors face. So even if you do not buy the magazine, just engaging our vendors with a friendly hello to pass the time of day can mean a lot.
Find out more about the work of The Big Issue here.