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Big Issue founder John Bird celebrates vendors at House of Lords – and vows to help end destitution

Big Issue founder Lord John Bird has pledged to “slit the throat of poverty,” as sellers and staff gathered at the House of Lords.

Lord John Bird speaks at the House of Lords for National Vendor Week 2024 - credit: Louise Haywood-Schiefer

Big Issue founder Lord John Bird pledged to “slit the throat of poverty” as vendors and staff gathered at the House of Lords to celebrate National Vendor Week 2024.

Vendors, staff and Big Issue ambassador Sophie Winkelman met in Westminster, London, to pay tribute to the 3,700 people who sell the Big Issue magazine – and to reaffirm the Big Issue’s commitment to eradicating destitution.

In a rousing speech, Lord Bird congratulated the vendors who work hard to make a better life for themselves.

“Homelessness should not be encouraged to be a lifelong condition. It should be a transitional place,” he said. “We [should] work in society to break people from homelessness, to get them out, to give them not just a voice but to give them an exit.”

Lord Bird celebrated the “incredible” work of the Big Issue group, which – through its recruitment and investment arms – has “reconfigured itself into the world of preventing homelessness.”

“We have even more people who are just as desperate as our vendors… but they’re often living in homes, and only just about hanging on,” he said.

“[The Big Issue] is going to have to stretch our arms wide to include all those people so that we don’t leave anybody behind.”

Amidst the celebration, the Big Issue founder didn’t hesitate to put the government on notice for its “scattergun” approach to poverty, reiterating his call for a dedicated Ministry of Poverty.

Royal, actress and Big Issue ambassador Sophie Winkleman paid tribute to the “brave and strong” vendors who face “relentless hardship” to sell the magazine every day.

“I firmly believe that helping hands should be available to anyone and everyone who finds themselves in the horrific reality of being homeless or vulnerably housed,” she said.

“What are we as a society if we don’t help our brothers and sisters who fall along the way?”

Sophie Winkleman and Lord John Bird

Winkleman is a self-professed “big fan” of the magazine – when she worked in LA for six years, her mother posted her the magazine every single week. But the actor and Peep Show star urged the public to acknowledge sellers even if they can’t buy a copy themselves.

“Random eye contact a smile, a few words are free… we’re all human,” she said. “We’re all exactly the same, separated only by some bad luck, either in childhood or along the way, and social interaction is crucial during tough times.”

The event was attended by current and former vendors, many of whom shared their inspiring stories.

Bournemouth vendor Karl Burns entered care at age three and said he spent time in “every type of institution and prison this country has to offer.”

Three years ago, he was hospitalised by a brutal attack. But the Big Issue helped him piece his life back together and to regain contact with his children.

“I see my children every single day now,” he said. “I now have a flat on the other end of the road to my children. I love [selling the Big Issue], and there isn’t anything else I would do.”

Bristol vendor and aspiring author Jack Osbourne-Richardson said he was “humbled’ by the generosity of his customers, who raised money to buy him a laptop.

“99.9% of people would rather give you a hand up than a kick in the face,” he said.

Over the past 12 months, the Big Issue group has given 4,000 people the opportunity to change their lives through enterprise, including by selling the magazine or being helped into work through Big Issue Recruit (BIR).

That work has resulted in the delivery of £5.3m of social value to the UK economy – including £4m generated through sales of The Big Issue magazine and £1.3m through BIR’s work to help marginalised individuals move into the full-time workplace.

Big Issue Recruit job coach Shak Dean paid tribute to the marginalised people who he helps into the workplace.

“Everyone has potential. We are not the sum of the worst parts of our lives,” he said.

National Vendor Week 2024 is the second annual celebration of Big Issue vendors. It was launched alongside a report from the Big Issue Group about a significant 8% year-on-year increase in the number of people that the Big Issue has helped.

Big Issue CEO Paul Cheal celebrated the hard work of these vendors.

“As varied as the Big Issue’s work now is, it all starts with our vendors, and that original principal established 33 years ago to provide impoverished people with the opportunity to generate an income for themselves.”

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

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