The Big Issue
The Big Issue and The Big Issue Foundation
by James Lamont (revised, originally published in 2010)
Suitable for Key Stage 4/5
To consider the issue of homelessness and begging.
Preparation and materials
More information about The Big Issue Foundation is available at: https://www.bigissue.org.uk/
Optional: you may wish to play the song ‘Another day in paradise’ by Phil Collins during the ‘Time for reflection’ part of the assembly, in which case you will also need the means to do so. It is available on YouTube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qt2mbGP6vFI and is 4.49 minutes long.
Homes take many forms: flats, houses, maisonettes, bungalows, houseboats, trailers and so on. There are two things that all of these share. First, they are structures designed to protect their inhabitants against the weather, especially from the cold and the rain, which can be dangerous if you are exposed to them for too long. Second, they fulfil a psychological need that we have for a sense of home, somewhere we belong.
Imagine that you are staying at a friend’s house. It’s fun for the first night and good for the second, but by the twelfth night, you are feeling uncomfortable because it’s not your own space. A person’s need for his or her own environment is well recognized by psychologists and social scientists.
Imagine, then, that everything about your home environment is taken away from you. You are left out in the street, surrounded by other people’s homes, without one yourself. You have to sleep where you can, trying to balance safety with warmth and shelter. People walk past you, and they do not see you as you. Instead, they see you only as a beggar, a homeless person: one who has slipped through a crack in society, a crack that can be a one-way trip. Alcoholism, drug addiction and mental illness, as well as a hostile populace, are common factors that drive people onto the streets and keep them there.
How is it possible to make a living in such circumstances? The most common means is begging, but there are many problems associated with begging. It can never be a sustainable job: you cannot beg your way out of begging. Begging can provide a meal for the night and a bus ticket, but it cannot pay for much more.
In 1991, as a response to these challenges, Gordon Roddick and A. John Bird launched a magazine called The Big Issue. Their initiative enabled the homeless to sell a magazine to people on the street. Currently, the vendor buys the magazine at a price of £1.25 per copy and sells it for £2.50, so the vendor receives £1.25 per magazine sold. This can provide a reasonable income, especially for someone who has no mortgage, rent or tax to pay. However, it offers more: by providing homeless people with a job and their own income, it also grants dignity to those who are especially vulnerable. Some prominent vendors have become minor local celebrities, raising awareness of the plight of the homeless.
Some people have criticized The Big Issue initiative, arguing that it fails to deal with substance abuse and alcoholism, which in some cases are the causes, not the effects, of homelessness. In 1995, The Big Issue Foundation was launched, which provides additional aid to the homeless. Funded by private donations as well as by profits from magazine sales, it investigates and aims to improve the situations that lead to homelessness in the first place.
Although these measures cannot eliminate homelessness and street poverty, they bring a marked improvement to individual lives, which is no bad thing. The wider changes needed to solve these problems once and for all can only be achieved by huge numbers of people working together. It is important to raise the quality of life for a few, but we should never lose sight of the bigger picture, too.
Time for reflection
You may wish to play the song ‘Another day in paradise’ by Phil Collins, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qt2mbGP6vF.
Imagine that you are homeless.
- How do you think you would feel?
- How do you think you would cope?
Think about Big Issue vendors whom you might have seen.
- Have you ever bought a copy of The Big Issue?
- Did you talk with the vendor?
- Did you even look at them?
Let’s be quiet for a moment and be thankful for all that we have.
Let’s think about our homes, and be thankful.
Optional: you may wish to play the song ‘Another day in paradise’ by Phil Collins. It is available on YouTube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qt2mbGP6vFI and is 4.49 minutes long.