''The Big Issue'' is a street newspaper founded by John Bird and Gordon Roddick in September 1991 and published in four continents. ''The Big Issue'' is one of the UK's leading social businesses and exists to offer homeless people, or individuals at risk of homelessness, the opportunity to earn a legitimate income, thereby helping them to reintegrate into mainstream society. It is the world's most widely circulated street newspaper.


Inspired by ''Street News'', a newspaper sold by homeless people in New York, ''The Big Issue'' was founded in 1991 by John Bird and Gordon Roddick as a response to the increasing numbers of homeless people in London; they have been friends since 1967. The Body Shop provided start-up capital to the equivalent value of $50,000. The magazine was initially published monthly but, in June 1993, ''The Big Issue'' went weekly. The venture continued to expand with national editions being established in Scotland and Wales, as well as regional editions for Northern England and England's South West Region. Further editions are also produced in seven locations overseas. In 1995, The Big Issue Foundation was founded to offer additional support and advice to vendors around issues such as housing, health, personal finance and addiction. In 2001, the magazine sold nearly 300,000 copies per week. Between 2007 and 2011, the circulation of ''The Big Issue'' declined from 167,000 to less than 125,000. Competition between vendors also increased at this time. In January 2012, the magazine was relaunched, with an increased focus on campaigning and political journalism. New columnists were added, including the Premier League footballer Joey Barton, Rachel Johnson, Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park and Samira Ahmed. The cover price was increased. In 2016, ''The Big Issue'' celebrated surpassing 200 million magazine sales.


To become a vendor, one must be homeless or almost homeless, vulnerably housed or marginalised in some way. ''The Big Issue'' recognises, however, that for many people, being housed is only the first stage in getting off the streets; therefore, The Big Issue Foundation exists to support vendors in gaining control of their lives by tackling the various issues which lead to homelessness. There are five localised editions of the magazine sold throughout the United Kingdom, and vendors buy ''The Big Issue'' for £1.50 and sell it for £3. The magazine is also produced and sold in Australia, Ireland, Japan, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, South Korea, and Taiwan. All vendors receive training, sign a code of conduct and can be identified by badges which include their photo and vendor number. ''Big Issue'' features prominently in the story of London busker James Bowen's struggles with homelessness and heroin addiction, told in his best-selling book, later turned into the feature film of the same name, ''A Street Cat Named Bob''. After busking on the streets becomes a problem, Bowen becomes a ''Big Issue'' vendor, with partner Bob the cat helping attract sales. Bob was featured on the cover in mid-November 2018, with Bowen's article ''In Bob We Trust: Life lessons from Britain’s favourite streetwise street cat''.


The accession of several Central and Eastern European countries to the European Union in 2004 led to the increased migration to the UK of residents of those countries. When Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007, the right of their residents (termed "A2 nationals") to work in Britain was limited to the self-employed, highly skilled migrants, and food and agricultural workers. ''The Big Issue'', whose vendors are classed as self-employed, offers an opportunity for A2 migrants to work in the UK. By 2011, around half of ''Big Issue'' sellers in the north of England were of Romani origin, many of whom having migrated from Romania and Bulgaria. In London, 30% of rough sleepers are Eastern European. In 2012, a Romanian ''Big Issue'' vendor obtained a court ruling which confirmed that she is entitled, as a self-employed person, to receive housing benefit. ''The Big Issue'' has been criticised for enabling migrants to access the benefits system in this way. The magazine responded by asserting its role in reducing benefit dependency, highlighting British former Prime Minister David Cameron's description of it as "a fantastic example of how we can reduce dependence on state hand-outs".


The magazine is produced by the Big Issue Company Ltd. The company is a self-sustaining business that generates income through magazine sales and advertising revenues. Financially, ''The Big Issue'' is a social enterprise. The Big Issue Foundation is the registered charity arm of the organisation. It aims to underpin the company's work by tackling the underlying causes of homelessness.

Overseas projects

There are nine Big Issue projects by the same name in other nations. * ''The Big Issue Australia'' (from June 1996) * ''The Big Issue France'' (from October 1993): In France, a non-profit organization named Big Issue France created with support from John Bird the magazine against exclusion called ''La Rue''. * ''The Big Issue Japan'' (from November 2003) * ''The Big Issue Kenya'' (from 2007) * ''The Big Issue Korea'' (from July 2010) * ''The Big Issue Malawi'' (from 2009) * ''The Big Issue Namibia'' * ''The Big Issue The Republic of Ireland'' * ''The Big Issue South Africa'' (from December 1996) * ''The Big Issue Taiwan'' (from April 2010) * ''The Big Issue Zambia'' (from 2007)


''The Big Issue'' has been the centre of much controversy among publishers of street newspapers, mainly because of its business model. Publishers of some other street newspapers, especially in the United States, have criticised it for being overly "commercial" and having a flashy design. According to these critics, street newspapers ought to focus on covering political and social issues that affect the homeless, rather than emulating mainstream newspapers to generate a profit. Publishers of some smaller papers, such as ''Making Change'' in Santa Monica, California, said they felt threatened when ''The Big Issue'' began to publish in their area. Other papers have also criticised ''The Big Issue'' for its professional production and limited participation by homeless individuals in writing and producing the newspaper. Others, however, have stated that ''The Big Issue'' uses a successful business model to generate a profit to benefit the homeless, and its founder John Bird has said that it is "possible to be both profitable and ethically correct".


* October 2004 – UN Habitat Scroll of Honour Award * October 2008 – Ernst & Young Social Entrepreneur of the Year award

See also

* International Network of Street Papers * Lucy Johnston


Further reading

* *

External links

Official site"Ethical Entrepreneurs" John Bird founder of ''The Big Issue'', talks about his early life and entrepreneurial journey
;Regional sites
빅이슈코리아Northern EnglandScotlandSouth West England大誌雜誌中文版Wales
{{DEFAULTSORT:Big Issue, The Category:Political magazines published in the United Kingdom Category:Weekly magazines published in the United Kingdom Category:Street newspapers Category:Magazines established in 1991 Category:1991 establishments in the United Kingdom Category:Homelessness in the United Kingdom