Social Justice

A Big Issue vendor visited Birmingham's controversial 'poverty experience'

Andy King investigated the exhibit that was dubbed a 'poverty safari' by a local councillor

Child poverty charity Compassion UK divided opinion recently after announcing that the ‘Compassion Experience’ was coming to Birmingham.

Installed in a 70ft long mobile trailer, the interactive exhibit was designed to educate visitors on the poverty suffered by children in developing countries.

Using immersive audiovisual technology, it tells the true story of two children: Sameson, a boy from Ethiopia, and Shamim, a girl from Uganda.

But many were unhappy about the experience visiting Birmingham where nearly half of children live in poverty themselves.

Nicky Brennan, Labour councillor for Sparkhill, labelled the project a “poverty safari”.

Later, Brennan said the charity had “justifiably received backlash from ordinary Brummies who have called it out explaining that poverty is not for entertainment and stating that it doesn’t belong in Birmingham, where you could walk up many streets and witness poverty”.

She added: “Interactive poverty isn’t entertainment. This voyeurism shouldn’t make us feel good about ourselves.”

The Big Issue pays a visit

The public outcry was strong. So when the free exhibit arrived at Victoria Square this weekend, Big Issue vendor Andy King went to try it out for himself.

He was given headphones and a tablet device which explained parts of Shamim’s story.

King said: “At times because of the way the story went it did leave me quite emotional. She had a lot of sadness and difficulty in her life.

“Shamim got sent home from school because she couldn’t afford to pay her daily school fees. And she lost her hearing because her parents couldn’t afford the the medication she needed.

“Details like those have really stuck with me. And I wouldn’t have learned them had I not visited.”

The 46-year-old vendor, who has been selling the Big Issue for five years, explained that he was already aware of poverty around the world because he has friends from around the world who moved to the UK and told him about difficulties they have faced.

But, despite its divisive nature, he thought the Compassion Experience was “definitely worthwhile”.

King explained: “It gave me an awareness of the charity and made me more aware of the work they actually do to help people.

“When it comes to the first step of just educating people, poverty in the UK doesn’t have to be in competition with poverty in other countries. It’s equally as important. We don’t need to compare the two because poverty can look different depending on where you go and it should all be prevented.”

However King pointed out that his time at the exhibit drove home what he considers to be the biggest issue facing homeless people in the UK.

“A lot of what families like Shamim’s struggle with are things there is help for in the UK. For example, there is support for homeless people to get clean clothes and food.

“It reminded me that our biggest problem is a lack of housing. There just isn’t enough. Things won’t get better in this country until people have homes to go to.”

The Compassion Experience will visit Bradford May 7-9.

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

Recommended for you

View all
Low pay as a trainee bus driver left me desperate. I skipped meals and ended up £46k in debt
james rossi, who faced debt
Cost of living

Low pay as a trainee bus driver left me desperate. I skipped meals and ended up £46k in debt

DWP ramps up AI use to 'bring the future to the welfare system' and push people into work
dwp mel stride
Department for Work and Pensions

DWP ramps up AI use to 'bring the future to the welfare system' and push people into work

June 2024 payment dates for DWP benefits – plus changes to universal credit
money in wallet/ dwp benefits
Benefits

June 2024 payment dates for DWP benefits – plus changes to universal credit

Archbishop of Canterbury joins growing calls for end to 'cruel' and 'immoral' two-child benefit cap
archbishop of canterbury
Two-child benefit cap

Archbishop of Canterbury joins growing calls for end to 'cruel' and 'immoral' two-child benefit cap

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know