Illustration by Michael Weldon
The Big Issue has been sold on the streets of Australia by people experiencing homelessness, marginalisation and disadvantage for almost 20 years. Over that time, a few strange rumours have circulated, some more pernicious than others. So, we’re here to set the record straight. It’s time to bust some Big Issue myths.
MYTH: The Big Issue is just a socialist/religious/propaganda rag.
FACT: The Big Issue is not aligned to any political party, set of beliefs or religion. It is an independent magazine that strives to feature diverse and balanced content.
MYTH: The Big Issue only features articles about homelessness or disadvantage. That’s all well and good, but it’s a bit of a downer for every fortnight.
FACT: The Big Issue features a huge range of articles and topics. We do always include a profile of one of our vendors, and our ‘Streetsheet’ page gives vendors the chance to contribute to the magazine. But we also have celebrity profiles, opinion columns, in-depth social justice investigations, political cartoons, four-page photography spreads, arts and entertainment reviews, media commentary and personal essays on life, love, death and everything in between. It’s really worth a read!
MYTH: It’s better to just give vendors the money and not take the magazine.
FACT: Not taking the magazine when you’ve paid for it is the same as giving a handout – and that is not what The Big Issue is here for. Vendors are selling a product, not begging, so paying them for their wares helps to include them as contributing members of society. Also, this is a fantastic magazine that a team of editors, writers and designers work really hard on every fortnight.
MYTH: You should always give more than the selling price.
FACT: Again, this magazine is a product that your vendor is selling. Vendors are not asking for handouts or donations – they’re selling a magazine that is worth $7. If you really want to show your appreciation, buy a second copy of the magazine for a friend who may not have read it before!
MYTH: The Big Issue is only a hard-copy magazine.
FACT: You can now buy a digital version of The Big Issue from your vendor! It comes in the form of a digital access card, and costs $7 – the same as the print copy – with vendors continuing to earn $3.50 from every sale.
MYTH: That vendor has a smartphone. They obviously don’t need my custom.
FACT: Vendors work hard for their money, and often save up for a long time to buy what they need. Smartphones are particularly important for disadvantaged people to stay in touch with other services, community and connections that can help them.
MYTH: If I give a vendor money, they’ll just spend it on drugs or alcohol.
FACT: Vendors are their own people, who work hard for their money, and can spend it on whatever they like – just as you can buy a bottle of wine to take home on a Friday evening. We do work with some people who have experienced problems with addiction, but that is by no means the case for every vendor.
MYTH: Big Issue vendors just roam the streets hassling you to buy the magazine.
FACT: Big Issue vendors sign a code of conduct and are assigned a pre-determined pitch for which The Big Issue has acquired a council permit. Just like other traders who sell wares to you throughout the city, Big Issue vendors are expected to always be polite. But they also have a right to spruik what they have on offer. Each vendor has developed their own way of getting noticed, but nearly all are happy for you to stop for a chat. The Big Issue is about social inclusion, and interacting with people helps achieve this.
MYTH: I thought only the homeless could sell The Big Issue, but I live next door to a seller…
FACT: There are more than 580 vendors working every fortnight across the country, and they have had a wide range of experiences that have led them to The Big Issue. This can include things like homelessness, long-term unemployment, intellectual and physical disability, mental illness, drug and alcohol dependency and family breakdown. Every vendor has a different story, but all are looking to improve their lives.
MYTH: The Big Issue uses homeless people to make loads of money.
FACT: The Big Issue is a not-for-profit, social enterprise organisation. All of our profits go towards producing our high-quality magazine, and supporting various programs that help the homeless and disadvantaged – such as the Women’s Subscription Enterprise and Community Street Soccer.
MYTH: Selling The Big Issue is just a scam.
FACT: Being out there on the street every day, trying to sell a magazine to busy people in all kinds of weather, is not an easy job. If you were looking for a “scam” to rip people off and make fast money, selling The Big Issue is not the right path. To quote our friends from The Big Issue UK: “To say that selling The Big Issue is a money-making scam is the same as saying going to work is a money-making scam.”
MYTH: I’ve moved away from a big city, so I can no longer get The Big Issue.
FACT: While a large proportion of our vendors sell on the street, we also have a subscription option, called the Women’s Subscription Enterprise, aimed at giving a safe space for disadvantaged women to work in. The women are employed by The Big Issue to pack the magazines for distribution to subscribers every fortnight, giving them an income as well as access to training, mentoring and support.
Thanks to our friends at The Big Issue UK for the inspiration behind this post!