The Big Issue: what is it and why should I buy it?

The Big Issue
Photo credit: The Big Issue

When coming out of many public transport stations and supermarkets in the UK, you are likely to come across someone selling The Big Issue. But what is it and what is the etiquette for purchasing one?

What is the Big Issue?

The Big Issue is a national award-winning magazine and social enterprise started in London in 1991. The publication has helped 92,000 homeless and impoverished people collectively earn £115 million through work rather than begging. Right now, around 1,500 vendors sell The Big Issue across the UK.

Written and run by professional journalists with a UK readership base of over 400,000, it’s one of the most widely-read street magazines in the world. There are nine other Big Issue projects by the same name in various countries. Furthermore, it has inspired similar magazines and enterprises in 35 countries worldwide.

How much does it cost?

Sellers purchase the magazine for £1.25 and sell it on for £2.50 to make a profit. If you want to give more that’s completely welcome, but it’s important to respect the £2.50 minimum. As The Big Issue aims to empower people through employment its good manners to take the magazine and not see your contribution as just a donation, plus the magazine is produced by professional journalists and is a good read.

How can you pay for it?

Until recently, you could only buy the magazine with notes or coins. However, in an increasingly cashless society, The Big Issue has started trialling contactless payment systems on a handful of vendors nationwide. Their goal is to eventually equip all salespeople with contactless machines, but for the time being many can only take cash.

Can you offer The Big Issue sellers food?

Whilst Big Issue sellers want to earn a wage instead of begging you can politely offer them food or a drink. This is the case regardless of whether you’re purchasing The Big Issue from them or not. Although, please don’t offer food in exchange for the magazine.

Can you say “no, thank you” to them?

Of course you can. The Big Issue is like any other charity in that you’re not obliged to contribute, but any support you can offer makes a difference. However, they don’t expect everyone to be able to contribute.

If you don’t have money to give but want to make a positive contribution, smiling and engaging by saying hello or good evening makes a world of difference.

However, if you do have a spare £2.50 that you were saving for a coffee, just remember that it could mean a lot more to someone in need. You do get a great magazine to read in exchange.

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