Posted by: barbaraneill | August 19, 2013

“The Big Issue”; Is selling it just glorified begging?

We’ve all heard of it; “The Big Issue”. It’s become synonymous with homelessness and the struggle for an income for people who are down on their luck. It has even played a part in cruel ‘jokes’ to that effect. But what of those people who are selling it? Is it just another way of begging? Of offering some token in exchange for small change?

You may be surprised to learn that selling “The Big Issue” is carefully organised and has a strict code of conduct that includes the fact that vendors must only sell at designated pitches, arranged by The Big Issue, and that vendors are only allowed to sell the magazine for its cover price of £2.00 and that there must be no asking for spare change or anything other than selling the magazine legitimately.

A recent copy of “The Big Issue in the North” included some fascinating articles, one of which was a heart-warming story of a former vendor who is now hoping to start up her own bakery after her hard work in The Big Issue in the North’s breakfast bar.

Another article focuses on the moves to preserve a great British icon; the red telephone boxes that are, sadly, disappearing from many towns and villages in the UK. Ingenious new uses for these kiosks, known as the “K6”, include book exchanges, in which a visitor can help themselves to a book from inside the kiosk and replace it with one of their own; an art gallery; yes, you did read that correctly. A red telephone box in Settle, Yorkshire, has become what is believed to be Britain’s smallest art gallery. It seems that visitors have even left works of art of their own in the kiosk, an act that has been described as “positive vandalism”! Other uses for the kiosks include emergency medical centres, with life-saving heart defibrillators and, in Leeds, a whole collection of kiosks, now painted blue, that are to be used as high tech, free, solar-powered wi-fi hubs and interactive information centres.

There are other fascinating articles, too numerous to mention but suffice to say that I found the magazine to be an excellent read and well worth the £2.00 cover price.

So, can selling The Big Issue be regarded as begging? On the front cover of the magazine itself, the tag line “working not begging” is used. As a legitimate, informative magazine being sold by legitimate vendors, I couldn’t agree more.



  1. I cannot comment on the Big Issue in the North, but elsewhere “working and not begging” does not hold true. I’m almost always asked for extra money from sellers, or they try to keep hold of magazines after selling them to you. Today I was sold a copy that was a month old by an official seller. The code of conduct means nothing, and I don’t believe it’s that strict.

    • Thank you for your comment, John. I have to say that this hasn’t been my experience but I would suggest that you alert The Big Issue to your own experience of official vendors and give them the opportunity to put right any abuse of their code of conduct.

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