Housing

Welsh Assembly members compete on the street in Big Issue sell-off

Politicians Carl Sargeant and Bethan Jenkins put themselves in vendors' shoes for one hour in 'eye-opening' Cardiff experience

Prominent members of the Welsh Assembly took to the streets of Cardiff this week to get a taste of life as a Big Issue vendor.

Communities and Children Secretary Carl Sargeant took to a pitch outside Costa on Queen Street in the capital, while AM Bethan Jenkins sold the magazine outside Burger King.

The communities secretary said: “It was a real eye-opener for me. I’ve seen and heard about the work of The Big Issue for many years, but the actual experience of being a vendor for a very short time and recognising the difficulties they face on a daily basis was incredible.

“It was very interesting to see what the public response was to a vendor on the street. I knew it wasn’t ever going to be easy, but I expect on a more difficult day it would only have been even harder.

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“Homelessness can have a devastating effect on people’s lives. Tackling it is a priority for this government, which is why we have announced a further £20m to tackle the issue over the next two years and why we have protected the budget for Supporting People which plays a very important role in preventing homelessness and helping rough sleepers off the streets.”

AM Bethan Jenkins, who sold one magazine over her hour on pitch said of her experience, “People just didn’t see you really, you felt invisible. Especially in a job like me, you’re in a position of public office, people always make a fuss about you. It was very different having people just totally ignore you.

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“Some people said no thanks, some people didn’t even give you the time of day. I just can’t imagine how difficult it is selling the magazine every day. I take my hat off to people for doing it.”

After receiving tips from local vendors, including encouraging the politician to be polite, even if someone is rude, Jenkins found the experience overall very difficult but is glad of the eye-opening experience: “I think we need to change the debate around homelessness. Anybody can find themselves homeless, anybody can get themselves in a difficult position. We all need to think about that when we go about our daily lives.”

Last week, a Welsh Government draft budget announced a further £20m to help tackle homelessness and rough sleeping over the next two years.

That follows a recent announcement of an additional £2.6m to tackle the issue during this financial year,  coming after actor and activist Michael Sheen delivered a powerful plea to the Welsh Government, where he demanded First Minister Carwyn Jones provides more help for the growing number of rough sleepers across the country.

Beth Thomas, Regional Sales Manager Wales and South West, said: “The sell-off experience was a great opportunity for the AM’s to get a little taster of what the vendors go through while selling on the streets. They were both very lucky that the weather was on their side and that they only had to experience it for a short time.

“One thing that really stood out to me was how they both talked about feeling invisible and being ignored by the public, I’m not sure this was something either had envisaged. The vendors were fantastic ambassadors for The Big Issue, showing the cabinet secretary to his parking space, providing sales tips as well as sharing their experiences of homelessness and poverty.”

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