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Social Justice

Big Issue founder wants to ‘redesign’ government to end poverty

Big Issue founder Lord John Bird is calling for an entrepreneurial response to social crisis, and that means changing how government works

Big Issue founder Lord John Bird has launched a new plan to help governments finally end endemic poverty. He wants it to “redesign the ways governments work” and create as much of an impact as the launch of The Big Issue. 

Bird will co-chair a new All-Parliamentary Group (APPG) launched to tackle issues such as poverty and the housing crisis through entrepreneurship.

“I want to redesign the ways governments work,” Bird said at the APPG’s first event on May 17. “And I want to begin with poverty.”

There are more than 14 million people living in poverty in the UK, and hundreds of thousands of people are recorded as homeless. This is only getting worse in the cost of living crisis.

“The reinvention of government is the soundest call we can and should make today,” Bird said. “Governments must be made ‘businesslike’. That does not mean privatising the NHS or other chunks of governmental armoury. It means being thoughtful and careful in how you spend your money.”

Bambos Charalambous, the Labour MP for Enfield and Southgate, will co-chair the APPG. It will be supported by the Conservative MP Peter Aldous and Baroness Uddin. The APPG will bring business strategy to the heart of government. 

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“Our APPG is momentous,” Bird said, “and potentially up there with the launch of The Big Issue. Why? Because its essential essence is about changing the stumbling and bumbling and wasteful governmental response to social crises.”

Speaking at the first event in the House of Lords, which was attended by leading figures from businesses, charities and financial institutions, Bird explained that The Big Issue was launched as an entrepreneurial response to poverty

“The Big Issue is a business-response to a social crisis,” he said. “We have always tried to be business-like.” The magazine gave vendors the opportunity to work and make their own money, and gave them the skills they needed to look for further employment opportunities.

Big Issue Invest, which supports social businesses and charities to deliver social, economic and environmental impact, was an extension of this mission. The Big Issue provides a hand up, not a hand out. 

The APPG will host events and networking opportunities, advise government ministers, and highlight the value of the business industry to the UK economy and society. 

The first event introduced the APPG and how it will work with business-minded organisations invested in creating long-term solutions that lift people out of poverty. Bird said, in the long term, he would like the government to introduce a ‘Ministry of Poverty’ which would work like other government departments and specifically focus on ending endemic poverty. 

Bird called for businesses and government to work together in tackling poverty. Image: Big Issue

John McLean, the chair of the Carers Trust, said: “All we are doing is getting a sticking plaster to sort out today’s problems, and tomorrow’s are seen to be another issue.” 

Bird said the approach to fixing poverty should be both “top down and bottom up”. Businesses and the government should be “looking at the most disenfranchised” in society for innovative solutions to social crises. And these solutions should be focused on prevention rather than crisis response. 

Bird wants to “create a society through business and through enterprise that everyone is able to access”. 

Philippa Simkiss, a senior engagement manager at Specsavers which has partnered with Big Issue to provide healthcare, said the company is “one piece of the jigsaw” and it is keen to continue its mission to give people access to vital healthcare services. “It’s by working together that we can solve problems,” she said. 

Bird added: “If we are businesslike in building an alliance between those caught in poverty, those businesses who want to punch a hole in poverty and those in government and Parliament who truly want to make poverty a thing of the past, then we will have achieved what has eluded previous generations.”

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The Big Issue’s #BigFutures campaign is calling for investment in decent and affordable housing, ending the low wage economy, and millions of green jobs. The last 10 years of austerity and cuts to public services have failed to deliver better living standards for people in this country. Sign the open letter and demand a better future. 

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