International Literacy Day: Bringing the power of words to the world

This year's International Literacy Day is on September 8, and The Big Issue has been playing a part in tackling illiteracy – the root cause of many social problems

If you are reading this now, here’s a fact that will shock you: 758 million people cannot read this sentence.

Literacy is empowering – the ability to read, write and count enables people to fully participate in society, going beyond the conventional definition and identifying, understanding and communicating in an ever-growing information-rich world.

One in two homeless people in the UK struggle with basic literacy skills

This International Literacy Day, on September 8, The Big Issue celebrates our partnership with Project Literacy – a global movement striving to bring the power of words to the world.

One in two homeless people in the UK struggle with basic literacy skills. That’s why we represent the letter ‘H’ for homelessness in Project Literacy’s ‘Alphabet of Illiteracy’.

John Bird and Lily Cole

Big Issue founder John Bird, launched the Alphabet at the House of Commons last year, with actress and model Lily Cole, in a bid to urge literacy to be taken more seriously. The project points out that illiteracy is the root cause of almost every major problem humanity faces.

“We need to put illiteracy more central to our thinking,” Cole told MPs launching the project during International Literacy Day 2016. “I’m not pretending I have the solution to the problems. I’m trying to raise awareness and make people think about illiteracy in a more comprehensive way.”

We need to put illiteracy more central to our thinking

Along with homelessness, The Alphabet lists a number of social issues that could be alleviated by improving literacy, such as child marriage, malnutrition and gender inequality.


All proceeds from The Big Issue’s Project Literacy T-shirts (below) go to the 22 partners of Project Literacy – with the target that by 2030 no newborn child will face a life of poor literacy.

Project Literacy T-shirt

For the book lover in you, celebrate with our very own John Bird! In his own words, Lord Bird gives his 10 Keys to Success, showing just how simple getting what you want can be.

And you can swot up on your Big Issue history too with Coming Up From The Streets, the story of the first 10 years of The Big Issue.