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Street Cat Bob and bullshit jobs: The Big Issue’s most-read articles of 2020

The most-read articles on The Big Issue website in a year to forget show that we must take the little victories wherever we may find them.

Not many people will be sad to see the back of 2020. For The Big Issue, the pandemic and ensuing lockdown instantly put a stop to the livelihoods of thousands of vendors who relied on the magazine to make their money. Without people on the streets, that income was snatched away.

But the determination to support our sellers and make sure they survive one of the hardest years in living memory led to award-winning innovations.

Readers can now subscribe to get a print and digital copy of the magazine and link their subscription directly to their local vendor through a new online map, ensuring they get 50 per cent of the net proceeds. 

The need to build for the future has seen the digital team and output grow to new heights, and as the magazine enters its 30th year in 2021, there is still more to come.

For now, we can celebrate the victories of 2020, wherever we can find them. These were the top stories on The Big Issue website in 2020.

Tier 4 has taken income away from hundreds of Big Issue sellers. Support The Big Issue and our vendors by signing up for a subscription.

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David Graeber: ‘To save the world, we’re going to have to stop working’

Anthropologist and activist David Graeber was a professor at the London School of Economics, a prominent figure in anti-capitalist groups, the originator of Occupy Wall Street’s “We are the 99 per cent” slogan, and a hero to many

His ideas were becoming all the more relevant in the face of the Covid and climate crisis, and that made his death in September at the age 59 all the more difficult to take for his friends and supporters. 

A few short weeks earlier he wrote this article for Jarvis Cocker’s guest editorship of The Big Issue magazine, taken from his 2019 book Bullshit Jobs: The Rise of Pointless Work and What We Can Do About It, which pinpoints the inefficiencies of our society which continue to push us to the brink of catastrophe.

The Big Issue pays tribute to Street Cat Bob

Street Cat Bob, in case you weren’t aware, was a rather special cat. The ginger tom rose to fame on the shoulder of James Bowen, a Big Issue vendor who would busk on the streets of London while selling the magazine. The busking led to a book deal, which led to a film, which led to global stardom.

Bob, too, was taken too early in 2020, although his impact was rather different from that of Graeber. He became the furry face of The Big Issue for many readers and a distant friend for sellers who could identify with James’s story and the companionship a pet can bring in the hardest of times. Deputy editor Steven Mackenzie wrote The Big Issue’s tribute to a cat who changed the life of everyone he met.

James Bowen: ‘Bob was my best friend, my soul mate’

Given how Bob went from riding on James’s shoulders to carrying the pair around the world with his regal serenity, we could not move on without hearing from the human side of the duo. One would not have reached such prominence without the other, after all.

“Bob became much more than a cat or mere companion to me,” James wrote in Bob’s commemorative issue. “He was my best friend, my soul mate. My brother, almost. Two slightly broken souls, we transformed each other’s lives.”

Disabled person handed £1,200 in Universal Credit sanctions during lockdown

The Government’s new Universal Credit system of financial help for those in need has been much criticised. Too little comes too late, its opponents argue, and vulnerable people are punished for their conditions instead of supported.

Benefit sanctions — often levied if recipients are believed to not be looking for work — were suspended during lockdown in March, but existing sanctions continued. Reporter Hannah Westwater spoke to Clara, who was docked more than £1,200 after failing to take on a physical supermarket job because of her chronic health issues, leaving her without money to pay bills or buy food and pushing her into poverty.

How many people are homeless in the UK? And what can you do about it?

Helping people who are experiencing homelessness was the founding mission of The Big Issue, giving individuals at their lowest ebb an opportunity to help themselves. But the broader issues of homelessness and housing are blight on society. 

Understanding the nature of the problem and raising awareness about the solutions is crucial if we are going to end homelessness once and for all, so this article is regularly updated with the latest figures and programmes from across the country.

What should you do if you see a homeless person?

There are structural, social issues which create homelessness, most often when people have a string of bad luck and no support network, no one to catch them when they stumble. Fixing those bigger problems is a long, hard fight but there are always ways which individuals can help, even in the smallest way. Liam Geraghty explains what anyone can do to make a difference.

Which charities are fighting homelessness in the UK?

As well as the personal and the structural, there are numerous charities which are making the lives of people living on the streets better, both in the long term and short term. It’s not just about giving someone a coat or a hot drink, but finding housing for them, helping them get skills and work, and making sure they can rebuild their lives on a solid foundation for the future. 

Liam Geraghty and Adrian Lobb run through the different charities across the UK who are making a difference to people fighting to overcome homelessness.

Street Cat Bob’s little kitten brothers ease James Bowen’s heartbreak

As you may have guessed by now, Street Cat Bob was irreplaceable. So James had to get two kittens to soften the blow of Bob’s passing.

“Their affection has definitely eased my suffering a bit, about missing Bob,” James told Laura Kelly. “They are absolutely adorable.”

James Bowen: ‘This will be my first Christmas without Street Cat Bob’

Bob may have departed but he left one final Christmas gift: the festive family film A Christmas Gift From Bob. Filmed in December 2019, the movie was but also a painful reminder for James

“I couldn’t be prouder of my little man,” James said, reflecting on the film. “It’s really such a shame that he can’t be here to know how much love he’s receiving for it. He’s always in my heart and soul. And anybody who’s ever appreciated him in any way, there’s a little bit of him in all of those people.”

10 things to know about A Christmas Gift From Bob as the trailer is revealed

Steven Mackenzie had an early look at the film which Bobites (yes, Bob has groupies) had been waiting for around the world, paying an early visit to the set during filming. When the trailer finally came out in October, he already had the inside track on the best bits of the movie, so gave the fans exactly what they were looking for.

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Big Issue Group is creating new solutions through enterprise to unlock opportunities for the 14.5 million people living in poverty to earn, learn and thrive. Big Issue Group brings together our media and investment initiatives as well as a diverse and pioneering range of new solutions, all of which aim to dismantle poverty by creating opportunity. Learn how you can change lives today.

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