Opinion

Paul McNamee: The Big Issue is here while it has to be

"We’re not a charity, we don’t operate on government handouts. We’re a business, a social business, that brings business solutions to society’s problems. And this has now taken wings"

The Big Issue logo

The Big Issue is a community.

We are our vendors, we are our readers, we are the staff and all our supporters. The symbiosis that exists is unique. We are not like any other publication and we are unlike almost any other company.

We exist to give the poorest in society, those who feel society has left them behind, a means to earn a living and pull themselves back up.

That is the rubric upon which we were established over 26 years ago. And the reason we’re still here.

I do not tire of explaining this. The purpose of The Big Issue provides incredible agency.

And this week we reveal we are selling well. In 2017, we sold one per cent more than we did the year before. The Big Issue now sells an average of 83,073 copies each week across Britain. This is the third year in a row we’ve increased sales.

On the one hand, this is very good news. There is pride in the success. It’s a very tough market and it’s no secret that paid-for titles are struggling. We have bucked that trend, again.

There is pride that we’re woven into the fabric of Britain’s high streets and in its hearts and minds. It’s quite incredible that this sense of identity continues to grow, in our 27th year. It’s wonderful that our readers have stayed with us, that new readers have joined us, that they have found the words, the identity and the attitude they love in the pages we produce. It’s testament to the incredible work of everybody in the organisation.

There is ongoing frustration that The Big Issue is still needed. Founder John Bird has frequently said he’ll know that society has really got somewhere when The Big Issue is not needed anymore.

But things have grown beyond the magazine. And this is where the strength lies. The extra parts of the organisation continue the original plan – a hand up, not a handout. A means of offering people a way to move out of their situation.

This is the third year in a row we’ve increased sales

We’re not a charity, we don’t operate on government handouts. We’re a business, a social business, that brings business solutions to society’s problems. And this has now taken wings.

We have Big Issue Invest, the social investment arm of the Group. The aim is simple – to finance sustainable social enterprises and charities that are making a positive difference for people and communities across the UK. It’s important to be clear – no money is taken from magazine sales or vendors.

Instead, the funds invested are from businesses and individuals who want to make their money do good. Big Issue Invest gives purpose to some of the biggest businesses in order to allow some of the smallest businesses, in communities across Britain, fulfil their purpose.

There is the Big Issue Shop, a hub for social enterprises and businesses, allowing the marginalised to earn an income through their products. The Foundation is our charitable arm, and at the top of it all there is John Bird, Lord John Bird, now in Parliament.

He is not there to warm the benches, but working for the poorest in Britain, to form an alliance of people that will work towards preventing the next generation falling into poverty. To prevent The Big Issue needing to exist.

All this, from one magazine in 1991. So long as we are needed, we will be here.

On we go. All of us.

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.
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