The Big Issue and what it means for its 200 Scottish vendors

Big-Issue-logoToday’s Homeless Spotlight article sees The Big Issue highlight the work it does, where it operates in Scotland, the problems facing many of its vendors and the benefits of selling the magazine.

Portrait by local artist Karen Bates of Edinburgh vendors who were working with The Big Issue around a year ago
Portrait by local artist Karen Bates of Edinburgh vendors who were working with The Big Issue around a year ago

We have all seen a Big Issue vendor at work in cities across Scotland, with their distinctive red tabard and bundle magazines. Since it launched 25 years ago, The Big Issue has become a household name in Britain and beyond, one of the country’s most recognisable brands.

But there is more to the story than that snapshot of a vendor you might pass, or stop and chat to as you buy a copy of the magazine. Some people do not realise Big Issue vendors are all micro-businesses – they buy their copies of the magazine for £1.25 and sell them for £2.50, keeping the difference from each sale. They might be homeless, vulnerably housed or facing homelessness – we have always been here for anyone on the margins who needs us, for as long as they need us.

With two main offices in Glasgow and Edinburgh, we are also based in Perth, Fife, Dundee, Aberdeen, Elgin and Inverness, working with over 200 vendors in Scotland, giving them a means to a better future.

Our vendors work hard in all weathers. Glasgow vendor Sam, asked if he could tell the public one thing about selling the magazine, commented:

“I would tell them that I’m working. Just like them. I get up every day, sometimes around 5am to get out for the morning commuters. I might have a break in the afternoon then I’m back out again until 7…maybe 8 o’clock. For me it’s a job.”

The Big Issue offers individuals a chance to excel, to set their sights on a target and work towards it.

When an individual approaches The Big Issue, they will be taken through an induction process and given a trainee badge. A savings scheme will be opened in their name; for vendors sleeping rough or in B&Bs, for vendors with addictions or debt, this provides them with a safe place to store small amounts of money.

Vendors are then handed five free magazines and once these have been bought, they start managing their money, improving their budgeting and communication skills – how much money to spend on magazines? How much money to save for food or travel or accommodation? Slowly, with the help of staff, we see vendors take control of their life, and start to get back on track.

Across Scotland we work in partnerships with local agencies such as Churches Action for the Homeless, The Cairn Centre and Aberdeen City Centre Grouping Project. When vendors find themselves struggling we can refer them on to the relevant services, and countless times we see lives stabilise and progress emerging.

The Big Issue is as much as a prevention service as it is a crisis service. We will continue to work with someone until they feel it is time to move on. We have learned only by experience that saying goodbye to a service user too early can be damaging.

And we have lots of vendor success stories to inspire and celebrate. We tell people about the vendor who gained a Health and Hygiene certificate with us and went on to work in a restaurant that he previously sold The Big Issue in front of. We tell people about the vendor who bought a laptop with the help of The Big Issue and went on to University. And we tell the story of the vendor who found a full time job and when we caught up with him six months later he was not only still working but engaged to be married as well!

But the story I love the most is of the vendors who are currently working with us. The vendors who, in the face of poor physical or mental health, histories of trauma, rough sleeping or abuse, get up every day, put on their red tabard and head out to work.

If you know someone who would benefit from selling The Big Issue or if you are a partners organisation interested in hearing more about how The Big Issue works please contact Rebecca Pringle for more information or an agency visit on 0131 225 6714 or


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