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The Big Issue
United Kingdom

Keywords: Social Exclusion/Integration
Poverty Eradication


The Big Issue is a magazine sold by homeless people in order that they can earn an income and regain their self esteem. All post-investment profits generated by the magazine are mandated to The Big Issue Foundation which provides the support in order to help the socially excluded re-integrate into society. The Big Issue has been instrumental in setting up papers in Western and Eastern Europe, South Africa and Australia.


With financial backing from The Body Shop Foundation, The Big Issue - Europe's first street paper was launched as a monthly publication in September l99l, with a print-run of 30,000 and approximately 30 vendors. A year later it went fortnightly and in June 1993, The Big Issue was re-launched as a weekly magazine.

The Big Issue is a unique social experiment based on the philosophy of self help. It gives homeless people a hand up not a hand out, empowering them through their own actions. Helping the homeless help themselves is the principle behind The Big Issue. Self-help is a way to break people from dependency and is an alternative to begging. It allows people to make choices and develops their self-esteem.

From selling the paper and earning their own living homeless people are elevated above the traditional hand out culture. Homelessness undermines human dignity and hinders the ability of people to benefit from their fundamental rights. The Big Issue seeks to change the relationship homeless people have with their immediate environment, through giving them the ammunition for self initiated change.

The Big Issue operates as a socially responsible business. All post-investment profits from the business are mandated to The Big Issue Foundation. Vendors buy the magazine from The Big Issue for 30p and retail the paper to the public for 70p, making 40p (57% profit). Quality and professionalism are magazine's underpinning value. As a magazine, The Big Issue strives to be a marketable product with mass appeal. It is conventional in seeking to establish for itself a niche in the market. Its editorial policy aims at creating a distinctive mixture of feature articles, celebrity interviews, current affairs and news, alongside contributions by and about homeless people.

It is a good read, not a pity purchase, so that the public buy the magazine on its own merits and they are not in a sense, buying the condition of the vendor. However, The Big Issue is also a campaigning paper, raising issues that don't get coverage in the national press and more importantly providing a platform for homeless people to share their experiences and opinions.

Firstly, The Big Issue empowers homeless people through their own actions. Not content with only supplying a means of gaining an income, we have also developed writing workshops, a vendor support team, training and education department and a housing team. Through the social initiative we aim to provide a support system that best suits the need of each vendor, create the opportunities for their re-integration into society and help vendors and ex-vendors to find paid employment within The Big Issue and other organisations.

The Big Issue is only a first step; it aims to be the means to an end. Hence the development of micro-enterprises (Candle Works and The Big Issue Print Shop) which are an extension of The Big Issue's move - on philosophy. The purpose of the micro-enterprises are to create businesses within the business in order to provide opportunities for the vendors to move into mainstream employment.

The problem of homelessness in Britain is nation-wide. What essentially started as a unique social experiment in London has proven to be so successful that we have now expanded our distribution and similar structures in terms of the social initiative to other major cities. The Big Issue - London has also played a key role in setting up The Big Issue in Scotland, Big Issues in Ireland, The Big Issue - North West, The Big Issue - North East and The Big Issue - Cymru.

Big Issue vendors are mostly men (varying 80 -90%). A recent survey of vendors indicates that the most common immediate precipitating cause of homelessness is relationship breakdown. The vendors range between the age of 18 - 46 plus, with the
main group falling into the 26 - 35 age bracket. Across the UK there are about 6000 registered vendors and a further 1000 in Ireland. There are approximately 250,000 issues sold across the British Isles each week.

We work with other like minded socially responsible businesses and charities. We see working with other groups that have a common aim as crucial in helping to lay the foundations for social change.

The international network of street papers.

The success of The Big Issue has paved the way for street papers in thirteen European countries, South Africa and Australia. The International Network of Street Papers (INSP) co-ordinated and facilitated by The Big Issue's International Department was launched in July 1994. INSP unites its 19 members around a street paper charter, provides a consultancy service for its partner papers and advises on setting up new street papers and support initiatives for marginalised people.


1. Since its inception, The Big Issue has given over 6000 homeless people the opportunity to help themselves and move off the streets through earning an income from selling the paper.

2. The Big Issue has changed the relationship between homeless people and the public. It has directly challenged traditional stereotypes surrounding the homeless.

3. Keeps the issue of homelessness in the magazine, as well as in the national media - press, radio and TV.

4. The Big Issue gives homeless people a voice in The Street Lights section of the magazine, which is written by homeless people about their own experiences.

4. In the inner city, The Big Issue has developed a partnership with the police who view the initiative as a positive way to tackle a social problem, and to cut down petty crime.

5. It has altered the way in which the government view homeless people. It also forces the government to recognise that the homeless are a powerful group who can instigate change in their own lives when provided with the means to do so. In effect, it highlights the need for a different approach to the problem.

6. As a result of The Big Issue's success, a discussion has developed amongst other homeless charities about the various approaches to working with the homeless

7. The Big Issue has also challenged perceptions in the media. It is a successful marriage of media and social responsibility and as such is a move a way from the traditional approach to both.


The Big Issue is extremely successful both as a magazine and a social initiative. It has demonstrated how the concept of business can be moulded in order to effect social change. Its success in helping homeless people help themselves is demonstrated by the fact that, since its launch the number of regular vendors working with The Big Issue - London has grown from 50 to 800. Between all The Big Issues, over 6,000 homeless people have been provided with the opportunity to help themselves in the last four years. The Big Issue has not just enabled them to earn a living but it has empowered homeless people through their own actions, and thereby helped them to regain their self esteem. Equally as important, support and training is available to all vendors through the social initiative. The purpose of the support and training is to enable vendors to re-integrate into society.


Name of the key organisations:

    The Big Issue
    Fleet House
    57 Clerkenwell Road
    London EClM 5NP
    Tel: 171-418 0418
    Fax: 171-418 0428
    Editor in chief: A. John Bird
    (Contact: International Editor: Tessa Swithinbank)

    Body Shop International plc
    BN17 6LS
    Tel: 1903-731500
    Fax: 1903-726250
    Chairman: Gordon Roddick

Key Dates:

04 / 91: The Body Shop Foundation agrees to put up initial finance for a street paper in London.

09 / 91: The Big Issue is launched in London as a monthly magazine, with a circulation of 30,000 and 50 vendors.

09 / 92: The Big Issue goes fortnightly on its first birthday, with a circulation of 50,000.

Distribution outlets open in: Manchester, Brighton, Bath, Bristol, Wales and West Midlands.

06 / 93: The Big Issue goes weekly, with a circulation of 80,000.

06 / 93: Launch of The Big Issue - Scotland

01 / 94: First Audited Bureau of Circulation (ABC) 87,201.

06 / 94: Launch of The Big Issues - Ireland. It started as a monthly. Due to its huge success it re-launched as a fortnightly in November 1994. The Big Issues now sells 40,000 copies per fortnight. and has national distribution.

07 / 94: Launch of The International Network of Street Papers (INSP), funded by the European Commission and facilitated by the International Department of The Big Issue.

07 / 95: ABC figure is 108,526. The Big Issue working with approximately 6,000 vendors annually.

10 / 95: INSP's inaugural conference held in London. Launch of street paper charter.

11 / 95: Launch of The Big Issue Foundation, the charitable arm of The Big Issue.

01 / 96: ABC has increased to 120, 960 weekly.

Status of The Big Issue:

Non-profit company; all post-investment profits are mandated to The Big Issue Foundation.


    The Big Issue
    57 - 61 Clerkenwell Rd
    Farringdon, London
    United Kingdom
    EC1M 5NP
    171 - 418 0418


    We are an independent organisation originally funded by The Body Shop
    The Big Issue
    57 - 61 Clerkenwell Rd,
    Farringdon, London
    United Kingdom
    EC1M 5NP
    171 - 418 0418


    The Big Issue - Scotland
    Swithinbank, Tessa
    57 - 61 Clerkenwell Rd,
    Farringdon, London.
    United Kingdom
    EC1M 5NP.
    171 - 418 0418.

    The Big Issues - Ireland
    Maria Clancy
    57 - 61 Clerkenwell Rd,
    Farringdon, London.
    United Kingdom.
    EC1M 5NP
    171 - 418 0418

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