Big Issue Q&A

Q: What is it you do at the Big Issue?

A: I was a Voluntary Coordinator in Covent Garden.

Q: What does that mean exactly?

A: It means we managed the Covent Garden area.  We distribute the magazines…actually I did more than that…I…for a while I was a Roving Coordinator which essentially meant I was a Coordinator anywhere in London.  I used to meet the printing truck in Vauxhall at 5.30am and then deliver the magazines to all the various distribution points and then make my way to Covent Garden and thereby undertake my duties as a Voluntary Coordinator in Covent Garden which was essentially training Green Badges, they’d come to us and also we’ve got obviously a mainstay of people who are selling magazines – they’d come to us to buy their magazines.  It’s largely selling magazines but also ensuring that people within the Covent Garden catchment area adhere to the Big Issue code of conduct.  That was what I did.

Q: And did you get paid for this job?

A: Did I get paid for it?  The official answer is no but the answer to you, my dear, is yes, of course, I wouldn’t have done it otherwise.

Q: How much?

A: You asked me this before.  Erm.  There was travel, there was phones, so there were benefits.  There was lunch and then.  There were so many hidden benefits, it’s hard, really hard to explain but in terms of cash…erm…it varied but not a great variance, but…about £300 a week.

Q: Was that presented as being a cash payment of £300 a week or did they say expenses of £300 a week?

A: Do you know what I honestly don’t know.

Q: Did you receive that as a weekly lump sum?

A: No, daily.

Q: So you got £60 a day?

A: No I got £60…no £100 on a Monday and it kind of varied from there…£100 on a Monday, £40, £40 and it would vary.

Q: And where did that money come from?

A: From the takings [laughs] from the magazines in Covent Garden.  We’d generate that money ourselves on the street.

Q: Err can you explain that…the process of the money for me?

A: Well, all the people had to buy the magazines so they’d come to us and the cost price to the public say at present is £2, to vendor who is selling the magazine is £1, with sales upwards on occasions of 1,600 magazines…quite rare…but 1,200, 1,300 was about the average so we’d be generating say between £800 and £1,000 coz       would take her money…      was also a Coordinator…there was three Coordinators, all on the same sort of package and we’d all take our money directly from the takings on the day.

Q: So these figures you’re talking about are the daily figures?

A: Which?

Q: The…err, 1,300 issues?

A: Yeah, yeah, yeah…err…obviously it fluctuates quite a lot, given the weather, given the season, given…given err holidays…and some other things.  I think…the minimum at the moment or when I left…I didn’t leave voluntarily by the way, I was asked to leave…err, but the minimum would have been 800 per day but the year before that…and I was often covering Covent Garden on my own…err when I say often – frequently…err…1,200, 1,300 up to 1,500 per day.

Q: And how much of the…so are you saying that you collected the Issues for Covent Garden from the distribution centre, then you sold them in…to individual vendors in Covent Garden and how much of the money then from those Issues that were sold actually went back to the Big Issue head office?

A: What there was left after we’d taken our wages.

Q: Which would be what on average?

A: Well, on the Monday was slightly different things like I would do delivery.  I’m not quite sure what       was on but we’d take our…we were all on phone contracts which were quite nice phone contracts, we’d all get travel allowances, lunch allowances, other gratuities which I can’t really mention, but strange little things would be thrown into the hat.

Q: Like what [laughs] come on…we can edit it out later?

A: No, no, you don’t have to…theatre tickets…err…tickets to the opera, theatre tickets…err…

Q: Where did they come from?

A: They came directly from the office.  They used to send them over to us.

Q: Where did the office get them from?

A: No idea.  Absolutely none.

Q: So…we’re saying like…what…what percentage of the sales that you made in Covent Garden, what percentage of that actually went back to head office?

A: About.  I make this a rough estimate.  My maths is usually better…it’s a B right now…but…about 80%.

Q: So you’d take 20% and 80% would go back?

A: Roughly.  I mean I could do the maths again in a minute but, yeah, round about that.

Q: And were head office aware that you were taking a cut of the money?

A: Oh fully.  That was how it was sanctioned.  That’s how we were paid.

Q: Err…can you give an example of…err…anyone in any position of authority that you’ve had a direct conversation with about it?

A: Everybody knew.  That’s how the Coordinators got paid.  It’s not a great mystery.

Q: Okay [laughs].

A: It’s still going on now.

Q: So [laughs] I mean how…I want an example of not just ‘everyone’ but give me an example of a conversation that you’ve had with a named person.  How high up would people know that?

A: The CEO, Steven, would know that.  Everybody from the very top of the organisation down.  Obviously there’s a chap now called       who’s the London Distribution Coordinator, he manages Covent Garden from there, we manage it on the streets, so they separate street based services and those who do absolutely nothing in the office as far as I can tell, but everybody’s aware of it.  There were occasions where I strangely forgot to take my money on the day, coz I’d be so busy, and I would say to whoever was the Outreach Coordinator for the day ‘I’d forgot to take my money yesterday, I’ll take it today’ and it was       , who unfortunately is not there anymore, or if it was      who had the foresight and goodwill to leave or       or the…the Outreach supposed Coordinators were fully aware of it and I could do that on occasions say look, sorry, I forgot to take my money say on a Monday I’m going to double it up today on the Tuesday.  Absolutely fine, no problem at all.

Q: Err…what about…err…what was I going to say…the outreach?  What’s this team of outreach people?

A: Urgh!  Speak to any vendor, any vendor in London and they will look at you with utter bafflement.  Nobody really knows.  They’re based in Vauxhall.

Q: But do they actually exist?

A: Oh yeah they do exist.  When I was there, and I was there for a long time…there was ordinarily a team of…there was Outreach Team Leader…Outreach Manager, Outreach Team Leader, four Outreach Team Coordinators…so ordinarily a team of six.

Q: Could you say that you have never, ever seen a member of Outreach come out onto the streets?

A: Oh not at all…they’re there every…well they come at the end of every single day to pick up the money, my dear!  [laughs]

Q: Genuinely you say that’s all they do?

A: I couldn’t…I wouldn’t be as cruel to say that to all those who…but that would seem…seem to be most of what they do…if you look now…particularly at the Covent Garden area or Waterloo area…and see the amount of people there either sitting down or in a state of disrepair, be it through drink or drugs and selling the Big Issue, the Outreach team supposedly supposed to sort that out.  Unfortunately that was left to me and to       or to the street based coordinators.

Q: Are you aware that Big Issue…err…the Big Issue Foundation pays 35% of the salaries of the Outreach Team?

A: I wasn’t but it doesn’t surprise me…err…I think I told you once before, there was…there was a woman who works for the Outreach Team, actually no as a Service Broker and when a friend of mine asked her what she did she said she was a Service Broker – he’s a Professor from Pennsylvania – and he said, oh yeah, fine okay, that’s your title: what do you do?  She couldn’t answer him.  It’s ridiculous.  She just stone dead couldn’t answer him.  She just looked…it was horrible…you actually just reminded me of this at the time…just…just lots of shuffling and…like

Q: The Foundation supposedly pays this 35% to cover the portion of the work that Outreach does in the charitable aims of the Foundation, you know, providing…err…information and advice and support to vendors…and err supposedly not just to vendors…under the terms of the Charity Commission it has to be to any homeless person…err…can you think of any examples where this has actually taken place?

A: [long pause]…I’m afraid to say in…in my view…it’s – I’m going to swear and you can cut that out – it’s absolutely fucking absurd.  All I ever saw was like occasionally they’d have like a breakfast day where they give vendors a slice of toast and a glass of orange juice in the morning.  Beyond that, nothing.  I’ve known lots of vendors who are desperate for a passport, or desperate even for the most basic of needs…if you ask street based homeless…i.e. a sleeping bag and been refused by…by the Outreach Team.  It’s a nonsense.

Q: I’m trying to understand how the Service Brokerage schemes operate.

A: So am I!

Q: [laughs]  It seems to be that it is supposedly ring fenced money to provide certain services to vendors for example setting up a bank account and things like that.  Does that happen at all?

A: There was a spate where they were trying to set up bank accounts for people but…erm…I think if you look at…if there’s…I don’t know how many vendors there are in London but certainly in the Covent Garden area, particularly in the summer, Green Badges – that’s people that are brand new badges – they’d come to us and they were the only area they could come to, we’d have sometimes 30 or 40 and I know of maybe in the five years or six years that I worked for the Big Issue, they set up four bank accounts for vendors.

Q: [laughs] Okay.  Err…what about this…err…err…notion that…err…the Big Issue is there to help homeless people…err…what percentage do you think of vendors are actually…say for a start…are street homeless?

A: What do I think or what…

Q: How many…how many…err…how many do you think…I’m not talking about…don’t actually give me a number…but…err…but a percentage?

A: No more than 10%.

Q: And…of…err…the remainding…remaining ones…err…how many of those or what percentage of those do you think, as a really rough guess…err…would say be in hostels?

A: [pause]  Because I think that about 70% of those…vendors…people selling the magazine on the streets of London, in particular, are housed, and that’s not housed in hostels and/or street homeless…it would be about 20% but that fluctuates because people are in hostels and a lot of the…a lot of…when I was doing the work a lot of people get thrown out of the hostels and then…you know…be in a hostel and then be street homeless and back in a hostel…err…About 70% I believe to be housed, be that vulnerably, but I regard myself as vulnerably housed, but I’m not particularly vulnerably housed unless I make myself vulnerably housed.  You know, none of them come round to my house and throw me out of the door.

Q: So you have no issue with people who are now, to all intents and purposes, in permanent accommodation…you have no problem with them selling the Big Issue.  You think that’s reasonable?

A: I personally think it’s wrong but I…I have often thought that the Big Issue should have some move on policy.  I have known people who have been selling the Big Issue…it’s been going for twenty years here in London…I have known people to be selling it for fifteen years on the same pitch.  That seems to me to be a nonsense.

Q: So talking about move on…err…presumably the Big Issue provides opportunities within its own organisation for vendors to move into higher positions and positions of authority in the organisation like backroom staff.

A: Absolutely none whatsoever, unfortunately, none.

Q: Has any vendor ever moved into backroom staff?

A: One.       , though he’s now left, but he was from the Wales – Cardiff or Swansea…Swansea area.  He did become the actual Outreach Team Leader and then left.

Q: That seems quite an odd thing considering the policy of the Big Issue is about offering…err…a hand up.  You’d think that vendors would be the most knowledgeable…err…and have the most to offer in running the organisation – after they’ve established themselves.

A: I would have thought so but what Mr Bird and others in the organisation don’t…don’t reveal to you is it’s a hand up and a kick down, my dear!

Q: Why don’t they have them in the backroom…err…working in the backroom?

A: Because they’re corrupt!  [laughs]  Sorry, but it seems to me like they are corrupt and then…they know that the vendors, a lot of them, are very sassy, especially if they come off the streets, would pick up on that corruption immediately.  If you speak to vendors, they will say similar things.  I believe a lot of them would say similar things.  They can see the corruption.  They can see the Outreach Team do absolutely nothing.  It’s…it always has been a massive bone of contention.  But I even have problems with people saying helping…there was one particular vendor who shall remain nameless who works on the top of Neal Street [laughs] on a daily basis who has been saying for years and years and years ‘Big Issue.  Read us.  Help me.  Buy a copy.  Helping the homeless.’ and she hasn’t been homeless for all that time so that’s just fraud.  That to me is just fraud.  I’ve got no qualms with saying ‘Buy this magazine coz I wanna go on holiday next week’ [laughs] and blah, blah, blah, blah.  I’ve no problem with that but not the fraudulent aspect – I find revolting.

Q: What about the question of tax and benefits?  Err…are many Big Issue vendors on benefits?

A: [Laughs] about 98% and the 2% who aren’t…who knows why!  I have only known of two vendors in the entire time of – literally it would be running into thousands of vendors – who did declare their incomes, which there is a proviso as a get out that we supposedly…are supposed to encourage people to do so – to my knowledge nobody ever did do so and I would estimate that…98% might be a bit high but I’d be…I’d be comfortable with 95%!

Q: It doesn’t seem like a very successful [laughs] policy on the part of the Big Issue then if people just feel there are no sanctions to be suffered for basically benefit fraud and tax fraud.

A: [pause] I agree.

Q: Are the Big Issue aware that this is a major problem with vendors?

A: I have never heard it spoken of.  Never heard it spoken of.

Q: But presumably they are aware of it.

A: Oh fully aware.  I mean everyone’s aware of it but it is not an issue and…if there is corruption going on elsewhere then it’s obviously incumbent on those who are corrupt to not point out corruption [laughs] in the organisation…it’s self-defeating.

Q: Are you aware, like the first thing that we talked about, about the money not going back to the depot – you said a conservative estimate of about 20% – are you aware that that basically is an allegation of tax fraud, at least.

A: Now that you’ve pointed it out, then, then perhaps but if a District Auditor got involved then, then it might be…it might…feathers might be ruffled but…is it tax fraud?  I don’t know.  If it is then, then yes it is.

Q: What about the salaries of people that work at the Big Issue?  Are you aware of any particularly interesting high salaries that any individuals are earning?

A: I couldn’t say, other than hearsay, I really couldn’t.

Q: Okay, give me an example of any hearsay.

A:       – I’m sorry to mention       coz he’s a lovely man, he really is…err…he’s now left the company after going round to all his distribution points and stealing the money and fled to Glasgow with £46,000 [laughs] but he was on a very decent package.  I know they offered him £35,000 a year as a whole package and he turned it down as not being enough so that’s not uncommon.

Q: Err…and the London…

A: Don’t mention his name.

Q: No I won’t.  You can remove the whole section if you want.

A: No, keep the whole thing but not the actual name.

Q: The…err…err…so you said, err, you worked at the Covent Garden distribution point…erm…presumably the London head office erm is in charge of several other distribution points.  To your knowledge, is that system of err supposedly voluntary workers actually receiving cash remuneration and that money not making it back to head office, are you aware of that being replicated anywhere else.

A: It’s replicated everywhere.  The only discrepancy is that we in Covent Garden…err…would get paid more than all the other distribution points primarily because we do more work but they have…you know there’s much more footfall but there is some disgruntlement, say in the…the Oxford…Oxford Street distribution point, the Liverpool Street distribution point, the Angel distribution point…there is some disgruntlement amongst other Voluntary Coordinators who are essentially I think getting sometimes, not quite half, but maybe 60% of what we were getting in Covent Garden, but it happens…it’s standard right across the board.

Q: How many distribution points are there?

A: There used to be six.  Err…I believe there still are six.  There’s Victoria, Covent Garden, Angel, Liverpool Street, Oxford Circus and I believe they opened one, there also used to be also one in Notting Hill.  I believe there are six.

Q: And there are others…err…I mean there are different branches of the Big Issue aren’t there but there are others also that are within the domain of the London office of the Big Issue.

A: No.  No, that would be it.

Q: I mean the company, under the same company.

A: Oh yeah, absolutely they are countrywide, all different divisions but they sort of opened up at various other distribution points for a long long time and far be it for me to say the reason they can’t, because the Outreach Teams do absolutely nothing.  They can’t give them less for them to do nothing with that, can we?

Q: And who are these Outreach Workers?

A: What do you mean who are they?

Q: I mean…err…what’s the kind of…what are the qualifications for the job?

A: I don’t know.  I just know one chap who was given the post.  He’s a very young chap, he’s never been homeless, I’m not saying he’s not a decent chap.  I know his name.  But he was given the post on…purely on the recommendation that his father’s the…err…Police Commander for Wandsworth.

Q: What does an average Outreach Worker make?  Do you know?

A: A damn sight more than they would declare, my dear!

Q: I was told that it was around £18,000 or £19,000 but you mentioned a figure closer to £28,000.

A: I think £18,000 or £19,000 would be ridiculous because…[pause]…I couldn’t say.  18 or 19 just seems to me to be a paltry amount…but a…well it’s not actually a paltry amount for doing very little but…

Q: How hands on is John Bird in the running of the Big Issue?

A: As far as I am aware, he’s not hands on at all at present.

Q: Who really runs it, then?

A: I’ve been out…outwith it for about eight months now so I couldn’t really say.  Err, the CEO, Stephen, has a big say and Mr James Caan, I believe, has a huge amount of influence, but John Bird now just does all the sort of mad media work.  He is supposedly still the Editor-in-Chief but I believe he has actually relinquished that position.

Q: Okay, we’ll end it there.

Q: Last question.  Your thoughts on corporate hospitality at the Big Issue [laughs].

A: It’s just an absolute jolly.  It has no basis…err…I see it having no…no material benefit to any vendor whatsoever.  It’s just a jolly and it could be networking but they all fly off to Paris and fly off to Berlin and jump up and down the Himalayas, drink huge…stupid amounts of champagne in various locations around London and pat each other on the back and contemplate their next fraud!

Q: Erm…can you give me an example of an event that you’ve attended where you’ve been kind of astonished at the amount of monies…amount of money being spent?

A: There are…there are too many to mention.  Really too many to mention.  Say at the Big Issue’s 14th or 15th birthday Big Walk night out we were just over there actually, in the national film theatre, film thingy…what’s it called?

Q: The British Film Institute?

A: Thank you.  The BFI.  But then we all converged on St Barnabus in Soho at about 4o’clock in the morning and there were 250 bottles of champagne there waiting for us.

Q: Would that…does that money come from the Big Issue or does it come from the Big Issue Foundation.

A: I believe that was all paid for by the Foundation but when I was there the Head of the Foundation or the head of corporate fundraising was a chap called       who, who would take us all out for jolly jollies but…

Q: Coz I’ve had a look at the accounts for the Big Issue Foundation and they’re really quite extraordinary, the amount of money that goes on pure costs, pure fundraising costs, it’s about 50/50 split.  And in terms of actual money that goes to vendors, what they term ‘vendor support’, only £27,000 of over £1 million actually makes it to the vendors.  Does that sound about right?

A: Well if you buy [laughs] if you buy the occasional vendor a pair of gloves and give him a glass of orange juice and a slice of toast in ten years that sounds about right [laughs].

Q: Do you think that the sums of money that are spent on fundraising are justified?

A: No.  No.

Q: Err…the err…does the Big Issue Foundation sublet Big Issue offices?  Are they based in the same office block?

A: They are indeed.

Q: And what proportion of the building do they take up?

A: I always see them roam but there’s one section that’s like sectioned off.  The Outreach Team has the basement area, which is quite a large area, err…

Q: The actual fundraising team…err…I’m assuming they’ve got a static area for telephone use…though they curiously don’t use the telephone very much according to their accounts…but presumably that team needs a static area.  What proportion of the building does that take up?

A: I’d imagine…as far as I knew it was only       and       in that team and I couldn’t say for       but certainly       spends his entire time getting drunk on accounts so who knows? [laughs]

Q: Because the Big Issue Foundation currently – it used to pay a lot, lot more – but it currently pays half of the rent for that building.  Do you think that’s justified in terms of the amount of actual space they take up?

A: I couldn’t possibly comment on that, sorry…

Q: Okay.

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Just saw this in Guardian Jobs.  They already have ‘volunteers’ doing this position though from what I am told they are remunerated very well through a rather unusual method of payment.  Interview upcoming.

DO YOU WANT TO HELP PUT AN END TO HOMELESSNESS? If so, then we want to hear from you!Employer: BIG ISSUE COMPANY LIMITED Posted: 02 June 2011 Ref: BIL/VO Location: London Industry: Charities – Advice , Charities – Administration , Charities – Charity & volunteering support , Charities – Community development , Charities – Housing & homelessness Contract: Temp Hours: Part Time Salary: UNPAID VOLUNTARY WORK  Apply with CV
Further information

If so, then we want to hear from you!

London Ref: BIL/VO

The Big Issue produces a publication that is sold on the streets by people who are homeless or living in temporary accommodation. This provides vendors with the means to earn a living and regain control over their lives and continue their journey away from homelessness towards social & financial inclusion. Our mission is simple: we exist solely to help the homeless to help themselves.

We are looking for friendly, enthusiastic, motivated & sociable volunteers to provide crucial support to both our Vendor Support Department in Vauxhall & our ‘On-street-sales support’ teams in Central London. In these posts, you will be changing people’s lives for the better & gaining some invaluable first hand experience in trying to eradicate homelessness.

As part of a dynamic team, you will directly support Big Issue vendors, encouraging & assisting them to maximize their sales & personal development while also educating & informing the public that Big Issue vendors are working, not begging!

No day at The Big Issue is the same – from assisting our energized head office team to working in the sunshine in Covent Garden, you will be at the forefront of social business, participating, learning from & contributing to the teams efforts to challenge homelessness & raise the publics understanding of The Big Issue.

To be a part of this incredible opportunity, you must be enthusiastic, have a strong moral compass & be confident in approaching & talking to people. Our time scale for volunteering is flexible but a commitment to the social objectives of The Big Issue is essential.

If you are interested in these fantastic opportunities, please email your CV and covering letter to, quoting reference BIL/VO & state what experience you can bring us.

The Big Issue is striving towards Equal Opportunities
Apply with CV

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Big Issue ‘outreach’ advertisement

Spot the charitable objectives in this job description!!!!!!

Job Details Senior Sales and Outreach Worker Ref: BISW/SSOW The Big Issue Southampton N/A (Full-time – permanent) Closing: 27 May 2011 SENIOR SALES & OUTREACH WORKER SOUTHAMPTON Ref: BISW/SSOW 37.5 hours per week Salary on application We are seeking an adaptable and responsible individual to work in our Southampton office to provide an efficient and friendly distribution service and sales support to Big Issue vendors, enabling them to maximise their magazine sales and access required services. Reporting to the Team Leader & Area Manager, you will manage various aspects of the Southampton office operations. Your role will include implementing the business plan, setting sales targets, building working relationships with local authorities & agencies, and dealing with complaints. On a daily basis, you will manage the pitch system, seek new selling opportunities for vendors, provide outreach to homeless people encountered on the street and promote all services of The Big Issue. When in the office, you will oversee all sales-desk and cash-handling operations and procedures, the administration of vendor savings and report on performance as and when required. You must have experience in supervision, record keeping, cash handling & stock control; have great organisational & administrative skills; and be able to act with discretion when faced with sensitive issues. You also need to be flexible, have excellent communication skills, be proficient in Word & Excel & be willing to undertake a standard CRB disclosure. Experience of working within the homelessness sector would be an advantage and a commitment to the social objectives of The Big Issue is essential. Closing date: Friday 27th May 2011 To apply, please email your CV & covering letter to, quoting the job reference and telling us why you are the right person for this position. Alternatively please send your application to HR Department, 1-5 Wandsworth Road, London, SW8 2LN.


This one mentions outreach even less!!!!!

Sales and Outreach WorkerThe Big Issue Cymru
 Reference: CASW01
 Location: Cardiff
 Salary: £8.10 p/h – 35 hrs (incl. Sat)
 Contract Type: Permanent
 Closing Date: 8 Apr 2011
 Hours: Full-time
We have an exciting opportunity to work within one of the most innovative and successful self-help initiatives for homeless people.

Employer Profile
The Big Issue Ltd provides a business solution to a social crisis. People who are insecurely housed and are able to help themselves, and ultimately escape homelessness, by selling the quality arts and current affairs magazine, The Big Issue.

Job Role
We are seeking an adaptable & responsible individual to work full-time in our base in Cardiff to provide an efficient & friendly outreach & sales support to Big Issue vendors on the streets to help them maximise their magazine sales & access services.
On a daily basis you will actively recruiting new vendors, administering pitches & promoting good relations with the general public, including ensuring the vendor Code of Conduct is adhered to & responding to complaints. You will also liaise with other homeless agencies to develop services & selling opportunities whilst referring our vendors to appropriate in-house support services. When in the office, you will undertake all cashier work in an accurate and efficient manner, in-line with all cash and paper handling procedures.
You must have proven experience in administration, record keeping, cashiering & stock control and be proficient in Word & Excel. Experience of working in the homelessness sector would be an advantage and a commitment to the social objectives of The Big Issue is essential. You must also be willing to undertake a standard CRB disclosure. A clean driving license & access to your own vehicle would be an advantage.

Additional Information
The Big Issue is striving towards Equal Opportunities.

How To Apply
To apply, please email your CV and covering letter to quoting the job reference, and why you are the right person for this position.
Alternatively please post your application to:
The Big Issue Cymru, 55 Charles Street, Cardiff, CF10 2GD
The Big Issue thanks all applicants for their interest and will reply only to those invited for interview.

You can get in on the act helping the homeless through outreach all over the country by…err…making profit (or not if you inspect the Big Issue accounts) for John Bird and chums.

Outreach Sales Worker
The Big Issue in Scotland Magazine
Closing Date: 2011-05-13
Reference No : BIS/OSW
Salary : Salary on application
Additional Info About Salary : 37.5 hours per week
Benefits :
Location : Edinburgh
Status(FT/PT) : FT
Closing Date : 2011/05/13

Job Role : Outreach Sales Worker

Full Time
Edinburgh, Scotland
37.5 hours per week
Salary on application

We have an exciting opportunity to work within one of the most innovative and successful self-help initiatives for homeless people.

You will be working in the distribution office on a rota basis and conducting outreach sales duties around Edinburgh. Outreach Sales Workers are the face of The Big Issue on the streets and work with vendors to maximise their sales.

On a daily basis, you will be actively recruiting new vendors, administering pitches & promoting good relations with the general public, ensuring the vendor Code of Conduct is adhered to and responding to complaints. The role will also involve supporting our vendors and helping them to maximise their personal sales, referring our vendors to appropriate in-house support services and liaising with other homeless agencies and partner organisations.

As a member of a small but very busy team, you will need to be resilient, have proven experience in administration, cashiering and stock-control and also be proficient in Word & Excel. You will need to be a team player, adaptable & be willing to undertake a standard CRB disclosure if you do not currently possess one. A commitment to the social objectives of The Big Issue is essential.

Organisation Profile : The Big Issue Scotland Ltd provides a business solution to a social crisis. People who are insecurely housed are able to help themselves, and ultimately escape homelessness, by selling the quality arts and current affairs magazine, The Big Issue.

Website :

Application Notes : Closing date: Friday 13th May 2011

To apply, please send your CV and covering letter, quoting your current salary & outlining why you are suitable for this role to Alternatively please send your application to: HR Department, The Big Issue, 1-5 Wandsworth Road, London, SW8 2LN.

Additional Info : The Big Issue is striving towards Equal Opportunities

Main Contact :
Email Address :

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fourth tweet book

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Last night’s dream

When I woke up this morning Yessir asked me if I’d slept well and I said ‘yes, but I had a really vivid dream which was really strange. I dreamed that I was in a really rural part of China and visited a museum and they asked me to buy the museum and for some reason I agreed because they seemed so desperate, but it turned out to be…’ And at this point we both burst out giggling and said together ‘a financial burden’. Oh yeah, can’t think what that dream was trying to tell me! Anyway we had a good laugh about it. This (if you’re interested – and I appreciate there’s nothing more boring than other people’s dreams – is the full thing).

It was a museum compound in the middle of nowhere and to be honest it was pretty rubbish. They’d tried to make some dusty exhibits look interesting but had done a bad job of it and everyone looked really disheartened. Then they asked me to buy it for £5995 and I surprised myself by saying yes straightaway even though that was every penny in my bank account (I don’t have that in my bank account if you were wondering). After I realised it was a silly thing to do but I thought never mind because the worst thing that could happen was that the museum would fall down. However it turned out that they had a huge number of people on the staff and I immediately felt responsible for them and decided to get everyone to work to turn the museum into something everyone would want to visit.

I felt exhausted at the thought of all the work it would take and felt stupid that I’d taken on such a burden and hoped my enthusiasm and energy would carry us all through. I decided to take a walk to clear my head and just outside the walls of the museum (it was like an old chinese-style courtyard) I was amazed to see that we were on the shore of the Caspian Sea (I know that makes no sense geographically) and I thought this would save us all – we could turn the museum into a resort with attached culture museum. The beach was beautiful and i went to swim in the sea. However the water suddenly disappeared. I asked someone what was happening and he said yes the sea is beautiful round here but it disappears and reappears constantly.

Can’t think what that all means heh heh!

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The byelaw (part eight)

I set out below two alternatives: the first is what I would call my ideal scenario and the second is what I suggest as an alternative to the current soup run practices if the proposed ban does not take effect.

The Ideal

There is no need for additional indoor food services for street homeless in Westminster.  There is already sufficient provision in the whole of the borough.  (I am taking the liberty of including the Simon Community street cafes as ‘indoor’ within this definition as they operate in a unique way and on private property). 

The emphasis on dealing with street homeless should always be to move people on as swiftly as possible and so only the most basic needs must be provided for whilst they are on the streets so as not to encourage people to see living outside as a genuine and feasible alternative to finding accommodation and addressing the problems in their lives.  That is why, although it is true that there is very little indoor provision in the evenings (although there is some), because we should all be aiming to move towards a system where people spend no more than a few nights sleeping out, organisations should design their services such as food and other facilities to only be available at a time when it is possible to also engage service users with the resources they need to move on.  (Although evidently a lot of work needs to be done to make this possible at the weekend – of which more later.)

What the current charities providing soup runs could do as an alternative:-

• There will never be sufficient resources to provide a truly comprehensive street outreach service in London.  With a little training and coordination, volunteers could comprehensively scout the streets of London and its parks, locating people who are currently being missed.  Simon Community currently operates something similar in a very small part of Covent Garden.  This could be expanded (through coordination between all the groups) to include the whole of London, providing a hot drink and a simple snack to people as a way of engaging and breaking the ice and then handing out information leaflets advising people of the services available to them, and the details of people encountered could then be relayed to mainstream outreach services who could follow up on it.
• Indoor soup kitchens are a fantastic way of reaching out to vulnerable and isolated people in the community.  There is no need to concentrate so many duplicated services on one relatively small group of individuals (i.e. rough sleepers) when there are so many other people in our society in need of care and compassion.
• Could the charities coordinate in some way with the mainstream daycentres and local authorities to fill in some of the gaps that occur in weekend provision?  As a small example, although not much can be actioned at the weekend, it might be a good opportunity for assistance with form filling or information gathering ready for Monday morning, helping people set up email accounts, providing advice and information on resources and services and all the other little background details that can take up a lot of time and cause delays during the week.
• It is true that some people suffer benefit delays and some (not all) of the indoor services charge a small fee for food and other facilities.  Can charities work with these daycentres to raise money for some kind of voucher scheme that can pay for meals for people who are verified to be suffering benefit delays?
If Soup Runs Do Continue

This is what is needed:

• A system of licensing of soup runs renewable for time limited periods with the understanding that the long term goal is to move away from provision of food on the streets.
• Absolutely no goody bags handed out on streets.  No soup run should aim to hand out more than a simple meal and hot drinks or soup.  Pre-prepared bags of food containing sandwiches/biscuits/cakes/chocolate bars and crisps encourage large crowds of non-homeless.
• Soup runs should aim to engage with as many of the people who use the soup run as possible, checking on people’s welfare and informing people of services.  If over time the numbers of people attending a soup run increases to the stage where it becomes very difficult to do this effectively, this should be taken as a sign that that particular soup run needs to completely re-evaluate the service it is providing and whether changes need to be made.
• No more than one soup run should operate at one mealtime in one location.  (One mealtime meaning the whole period covering breakfast, the whole period covering lunch, etc.  One location meaning, for example, the whole of Victoria, the whole of the Strand, the whole of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, etc.)
• No charity should operate a soup run outside of its own borough.  No charity should be licensed to do the same.
• Soup runs that hand out clothes should be aware that they are being targeted by traders and should either seek a completely different method of providing clothing or should develop strategies for combating this.
• (This is a very personal one!)  It would be greatly appreciated by many people if the soup runs could provide an alternative to ready-sweetened hot drinks.


I agree with the fact that the ban makes no sense if people have not been made a good offer of accommodation that is suitable for their needs.  This has to be the absolute minimum.  In fact if it weren’t offered, it’s clear that the byelaw could be quite easily challenged on human rights grounds.

I’m neutral on the size of the proposed enforcement area.  I can think of things for and against.  I note the arguments that it should stick to a very tight area around the piazza and that argument is very well-reasoned but I can also see that, in this particular scenario, if people are displaced one street away it will be into very residential areas and areas with hotels, which wasn’t quite the same scenario with Lincolns and the Bullring.

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The byelaw (part seven)

I’m doing this on my phone – usual apologies.

The more difficult part of the byelaw. The banning of lying down and sleeping in public areas in a designated zone.

I think i probably have the most hardline approach to this part outside of the council itself because I actually roughly support this section of the byelaw as well for the following reasons:

Firstly, the byelaw chooses its words carefully: it includes the act of laying down bedding as well. This is really important because, as my blog and tweets should have made clear by now, a large proportion of people who pretend to be rough sleepers (and they can be very convincing) in busy thoroughfares are actually just begging and are not homeless at all. The byelaw covers a very popular area for begging which also happens to be a major tourist area and an international gateway to the country. It is not an image we need to present to the world. I don’t beg and only sleep in out of the way side streets but have been given around £200 over the last year, so you can only imagine what people are making on the main roads. Some people sit down and wrap themselves in a sleeping bag to beg. Others pretend to be sleeping, people leave money by them and then at night they pick up their things and go home (or, often as not, as soon as they have enough for a beer). At the moment they can only be moved if the police witness them soliciting money but the byelaw will make cracking down on this form of public subsidy for drug dealers and off licences much much easier.

This is also an area that is seeing a lot of commercial and retail development at the moment. I’ve noticed a couple of new large hotels are nearing completion as well. I’ve read somewhere that people tend to spend less when confronted with what they perceive to be destitution. It would be good if someone could dig up that research for me. London, you don’t need me to tell you, is heavily reliant on retail and tourism spending. And of course it’s obvious that any money that does get given to beggars is money that isn’t being spent at businesses which in turn provide employment to many.

Within the proposed zone and just on its fringes there are currently ten homeless hostels (serving different needs groups) and one large daycentre. It’s an area therefore that already has to deal with more than its fair share of people with challenging behaviour. It’s grossly unfair therefore to say that it’s about the rich trying to sweep the poor out of the area because in fact those rough sleepers will more likely than not be housed in buildings on the same streets where they are sleeping at the moment. Yes, some of the hostels are set to close but that is part of a welcome change in strategy for housing the homeless and many of the beds in the area will remain.

Further on this issue of the number of hostels in the area, it is a common complaint of homeless services that street life in the area acts as a draw pulling people out of hostels and back onto the street. People moving indoors are having to confront many difficult issues in their lives and, if it is too easy for them to walk away and end up back on the streets, no wonder so many of them decide they would rather do that than face up to the difficulties in their lives. Banning rough sleeping in the area won’t stop everyone in that situation from abandoning their hostel place (particularly when the byelaw covers such a small area), but it will put in place another piece of the overall (decidedly complex) puzzle. [And that’s an important point to make because too many people are reducing the debate to simple cause and effect like ‘no-one sleeps rough for a sandwich’ when in fact ending rough sleeping is about getting hundreds of little things right and this is just one of them.]

The very first place i slept rough in london was in fact the westminster piazza. I slept there a few nights and had trouble nearly every night. It’s definitely the most dangerous area for rough sleeping. Other rough sleepers i’ve talked to in london agree that it is the most dangerous area because it is a hub for newcomers from the continent. For those curious individuals who still persist in talking about a person’s ‘right’ to sleep rough (what is that – a right to be denied help by the state for your health or housing problems? Very strange) then don’t forget it doesn’t apply to people on private property. There’s nothing to stop people from sleeping on private steps and doorways out of the way – the advantage being it prevents large intimidating groups from forming in public thoroughfares and making places effectively no-go areas. It’s also much easier and safer for outreach services to engage with people sleeping in ones and twos than larger groups.

With regard to the local residents, many of them are indeed wealthy but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be entitled to feel safe on their way to and from their home.

With rough sleeping disallowed in the area, all the organisations that are currently putting so much time, money and energy into opposing the ban can get to work on what they should really be doing: keeping a close eye on the agencies trying to house the homeless and making sure they fulfil their promises to deal effectively with rough sleepers as individuals and provide the best solution to meet their individual needs. That would be a better use of those organisations’ time and considerable resources.

Part 8 – what i would propose.

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The byelaw (part six)

(sorry this post was done on my mobile)

As previously mentioned on twitter and this blog, the soup runs that offer clothing are targeted by individuals and organised gangs collecting things for street trading.

One of the biggest arguments put forward in support of the soup runs is that they offer vital social contact with isolated and vulnerable people. There are a few problems with this argument. Firstly most of the soup runs serve too many people for this to be genuinely the case. Secondly many of the soup runs are so busy and disorienting that they can feel very offputting and make one feel even more isolated and alone (think for a moment how you would feel as someone new to the streets standing alone and penniless among a crowd of strangers, on a cold, wet street corner waiting for a sandwich that may or may not arrive and whether that would make you feel conducive towards forming social bonds). Most importantly, though, I feel that this aspect is overemphasised. We’re normal people. You’re simply strangers that we might engage in a short conversation. It’s like talking to a stranger at a bus stop; you might open up and share a moment but the most you’re going to think about it afterwards is ‘what a nice person that was’ and then forget about it. Homeless people do have social contacts – each other. That is genuine social engagement. The purpose of soup runs is to engage us with services, not (though it might potentially happen much later down the line) to form profound friendships. Social engagement is not somehow more meaningful between you ‘normal’ folk and us than the contact we have among ourselves; in fact, it’s a good deal more superficial.

I keep reading ‘no-one sleeps on the streets for a free sandwich’ but to keep saying that is to spectacularly miss the point. Of course people don’t come out on the streets because there is free food. When you first become homeless you go cold and hungry and you’ll do anything to get back inside again, by making every effort to secure accommodation through engaging with services. But when you connect in to the system of soup runs and the large communities of rough sleepers in the major urban centres, you suddenly lose that impetus to take action. It makes the clock stop ticking. Suddenly nothing is quite so urgent. There will undoubtedly be a multitude of small and large problems that need tackling in your life, as well as practical issues to resolve. Any one of these issues on their own would be hard enough to deal with, but, taken together, it is easy to develop an attitude of ‘maybe tomorrow’ which before you know it causes someone to become entrenched on the streets. It is difficult to achieve a balance of sustaining someone’s most basic needs without allowing them to become too comfortable to maintain the momentum for change. Certainly at the present moment the balance is too much on the side of sustaining life on the streets.

However, although people don’t become homeless for a free sandwich, if they are homeless (and know the system well) they will migrate to congregate in the areas where the soup runs are most plentiful. Most of the people at the soup runs are not from London but, if they know about what’s on offer here, they will routinely hop on a bus or train and expect westminster services to sort out the problem rather than their home area because, as they say, it’s ‘easy’ to be homeless in London and a good deal more difficult elsewhere.

That’s enough to be going on with. There are some other points in my previous blog about the soup runs that I did last year and there are points that have been raised by other people but these are my main ones.

I want to talk next about the rough sleeping part of the byelaw.

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The byelaw (part five)

One of the arguments that keeps being brought up against the soup runs closing is that it will lead to the homeless having to steal food and this will have a big impact on the businesses that operate in Westminster.  They’re basically trying to sell the argument that Westminster should let people sleep rough and eat free food on the streets in large crowds because if they aren’t allowed to do it they’ll rob you.  That’s meant to convince the residents of Victoria to support them!!!!  There are a number of problems with this argument.  Firstly, most homeless are not criminals and if they genuinely had no money or access to food they would prefer to go hungry.  Secondly, most homeless have access to benefits.  Thirdly, the daycentres and daytime soup kitchens provide plenty of free or cheap food so that it is possible for every rough sleeper, if so minded, to get a couple of meals and plenty of hot drinks during the day from various venues in inner London so at the very least you won’t starve.  Most importantly the argument falls down on its main point because, by removing the soup runs, shoplifting will actually FALL.  I can tell you for a fact that a significant number of people who come to the soup runs collect some food and then go and rob some alcohol from the off-licence or supermarket or they get tired waiting for the food to show up on a cold night and then just go and rob a sandwich instead.  I’m not making this up!  Remove the crowds and shoplifting will fall.  Don’t believe me?  Ask around.  Ask the supermarkets whether they would prefer the occasional loss of a sandwich over a couple of crates of beer?  Ask them what they are currently losing on a daily basis.

There is plenty of other food available during the daytime (the potential problems lie in evening and morning provision).  “No-one goes hungry in London.”  That’s our saying on the streets and why people come to Westminster from elsewhere.

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The byelaw (part four)

The next point is a difficult one that people might disagree with strongly but I think is really important.  It’s to do with the status of homeless people and the way that sometimes acts of charity can reinforce their sense of hopelessness and otherness.  Whatever a person’s individual reasons for being on the street, you can be sure that it has been the final act in a series of problems in their life.  Those problems will probably mean that they have had a great deal of contact with government services by that point, be it the NHS, prisons, the care system, social services or whatever.  They will have a sense of being out of control of their destiny and, though I have never ever met a person who actively wants to live on the streets, I have met many (myself included) who passively accept the situation because it offers the path of least resistance (please in future drop all reference to rough sleeping being a lifestyle choice because it’s total and utter BS).  Even if the person has had no part to play in becoming homeless and is entirely blameless, the fact of the matter is this: that it is only through an active engagement on their own part with homeless services, and an acceptance that their future lies in them taking ownership of the fact that life will not simply get better in time but will only get better when they take steps to make it better, that their lives will improve.  Many rough sleepers have suffered psychological, physical and sexual abuse in their lifetimes that has led them to feel apart from others and so there is some sense of consolation in isolating themselves on the street along with others whom they feel “understand” their situation.  The system of soup runs plays along with and reinforces this sense of otherness and inferiority.  They play up to the sentiment of there is nothing worse in the world than having to sleep rough, and over time most people start to believe it and that they are somehow a class apart.

For example, as people who read my tweets regularly know, any money I get given by members of the public I donate to charity.  I constantly have to respond to outcry from other homeless people (I’m open about the fact I donate the money to charity) and from other people online who say my situation is dire and I should put the money towards something I need.  No.  They are absolutely and unequivocally wrong.  I am the same as everyone else.  I am an equal member of society.  If I start to think that I truly am part of a hopelessly downtrodden underclass, who knows what else I might start to think about myself.  I have to maintain a little hope.  I want to access services with the sense that they are public services that I am entitled to use just like any other, in the same way I feel perfectly entitled to sit in a public park or borrow a book from a library, because this gives me ownership.  But if the services I access are run in such a way that I am made to feel I can only be grateful and am unable to complain or have any input into how they operate (and right now rough sleepers are unhappy with how the soup runs operate), it reinforces my sense of lack of control over the situation.  I do not want to start thinking that I am so far beneath other people that it is okay to rely on them indefinitely for my everyday needs.  I want to see light at the end of the tunnel.  Acts of charity that are open-ended do not restore people’s sense of hope.  They reinforce their sense of otherness.  Charity and handouts should be about saying right now you need a helping hand to get you back up so that you can move on with your life because at times we all need help like that.  The moving on with life part is essential.  It’s about restoration.  Most soup runs do not actively engage people with this crucial aspect (though it can be done).

This point has become ever more important to me during my time on the street because everyday I see brought low the dignity and confidence of men and women whom I believe are perfectly capable, with the right support, of leading full and active lives but who don’t believe themselves capable because no-one else is telling them it’s true.  It’s very upsetting to witness.

[And when we have a situation where some organisers of the soup runs are actively advising rough sleepers not to cooperate with services instead of advising them how best to navigate them, then some homeless are threatened with an even worse outcome to the above.]

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