A Big Issue? Your views on homelessness in the UK

June 19, 2012, 1:30 PM GMT+0

Published in eight countries, the Big Issue is the world’s highest circulation street newspaper. Founded in 1991, it is produced by professional journalists and given to homeless people to sell on the street as a way for them to earn a legitimate income, and thus help them to reintegrate into mainstream society.

Here in YouGov’s PoliticsLab, we invited you to share your thoughts and feelings on homelessness more generally, and to talk about The Big Issue.

We began by asking participants in Labs how likely or unlikely they are to buy The Big Issue magazine from someone selling it on the street.

  • A far higher proportion of those who took part in the discussion said that it was either unlikely, or very unlikely that they would buy a copy of The Big Issue.
  • A fairly small proportion of participants that they would be either likely, or very likely to buy a copy.
  • The highest proportion of those who took part in the discussion said that they felt wary about Big Issue sellers generally, and whether the magazine’s business model is really helping them.
  • The second highest proportion of participants said they were happy to be approached to buy a Big Issue, even if they didn’t buy one.
  • Many of those who took part said that being asked to buy a Big Issue made them feel uncomfortable – and also guilty.
  • The largest proportion of participants said they felt either sorry or very sorry for homeless people, and that more should be done to help them.
  • A small proportion of you said you did not feel sorry for homeless people, arguing that in many cases it was because of their own choices that they were on the street.

We also invited you to be honest about how you feel when approached to buy a Big Issue.

Participants were also asked in Labs to give their reflections on homelessness in the UK.

What’s your perspective on homelessness? Are you someone who buys the Big Issue?

Add your voice to the discussion below.

Q: How do you feel when you are asked by someone selling the Big Issue on the street if you would like to buy one of their magazines?

'I feel wary of people selling Big Issue magazines'

  • Those who were of this view said they felt angry that many people selling The Big Issue are “foreigners” who do not speak English.
  • They also said they held suspicions that sellers were not using the proceeds they make from selling the magazine to improve their situation.

They are usually younger and more able than me to earn a living. Usually, with a roll-up hanging from their lip and a group of friends waiting for them to score” Lafrowda, St Just

“I know that the Big Issue used to be a force for good, helping many people who found themselves homeless, often through no fault of their own. But I feel that the Big Issue has now been hijacked by beggars from other countries, who are taking advantage of our generosity. Because of this, although I used to buy one, I always refuse nowadaysJane, Cumbria

I feel annoyed because most the sellers where I live are immigrants who can be very aggressive and rude. Most of them have plenty of money and large council housesJo G, Hexham

I think many of the sellers should have graduated to real jobs by now if the experience of selling the magazine was encouraging them to learn how to organise themselves for working life. I know at least two sellers who have been selling the magazine from the same street position for many years, at least eight years in one case” Anon

“I just tell them I have one and walk on by. I think these people should not be allowed to sell them as they use the money to buy drink and drugsJohn, Perth

“I used to always buy one but I stopped when the man I bought from left his normal post; he had found work. I then realised that all the ones who approached me didn't speak English. It has also increased in price so much that I don't think it is good enough valueJoyce, London

'I'm happy to be approached to buy a Big Issue'

  • Some of you said you were happy to buy a Big Issue, mainly because you feel like it’s helping the seller, while others said they never bought one but didn’t mind being asked.

I have no negative feelings when being asked to buy the big issue. I feel largely positive and would consider buying a copy. I feel that it is a worthwhile charityAnon

“Generally I have sympathy for their situation, something I do not have for beggars. Most sellers I encounter are polite and do not push for a sale. I have no interest in buying the mag in any event” Anon

“Because I know they are usually more polite than standard beggars, I am not afraid to say ‘No, thank you’. Sometimes they are so gracious after receiving a no, that it makes me decide to head back to them on my way home and get a copyAnon

I don't mind being asked, but do not buy because I support other homeless charities like the Salvation Army and ShelterHelen, Dover

“Not bothered until I get to the fifth Big Issue seller in half a mile walking through Leeds. … The current bunch seems better mannered and less aggressive than a few years ago. I am always polite when asked politely, but am just not interested in the magazine they are selling – wrong demographic I guess” Jim, West Yorkshire

I don’t mind and sometimes give them the money but don’t take the magBiddy, Cheshire

'I feel uncomfortable when I'm asked if I want to buy a Big Issue'

  • Participants who felt uncomfortable being asked to buy a Big Issue said that they often felt guilty not buying one, and wish sellers didn’t approach them.

I feel pleased that the person is trying to succeed and better themselves, but I wish it was publicly known just how much the magazine actually is. I would really like to purchase from the person, but would feel embarrassed if the price was too expensive for me” Jean P, Hertfordshire

I sometimes feel guilty if I can't buy one. It is sometimes a bit too expensive for me personally, but occasionally the actual seller just draws me in and makes me want to buy it from them. For example, once a guy had two dogs with him who I felt sorry for so I bought two copies!” Anon

I feel uncomfortable. If the Big Issue was a well-written and decent magazine then I would buy it. However, I feel like the magazine is taking advantage of the fact it is sold by homeless to guilt-trip people into buying something which is not worth readingAnon

Slightly embarrassed, perhaps, as my income is probably less than theirs being, as I am without benefits and at the mercy of pitiful interest rates and I'm therefore unable to help. I also feel that it doesn't work very well, as I have been seeing the same guy selling it in the same place for at least the last 10 yearsAG, London

Uncomfortable: I don't want to buy it, but refusing is awkward as I don't want to cause offence. Then again, I also feel slightly annoyed that they put me in the position of having to refuse. I feel that they shouldn't ask me to buy and that if I wanted the magazine I would have approached themClaire, Cleveland

“Usually, I feel embarrassed and politely decline. This is because there seem to be more and more sellers and if I didn't decline I'd be buying the same issue five-timesMike, Essex

Q: When you think about people who are homeless, do you feel sorry for them, or not sorry for them?

'I feel sorry for homeless people'

  • Those who said they felt sorry for homeless people argued that often it is not their fault that they do not have a home, and that society should do more to help them.

“Britain is a cold country and I wouldn't want to be out on the streets. Obviously some people are homeless because they've made bad choices like getting addicted to alcohol or drugs but I don't think this means they aren't worthy of compassionTom, Oxford

“I do feel very sorry for them as they don't have the luxuries that I often take for granted such as roof above my head. I am also very aware that in the current financial climate it would be very difficult to get out of that situationLorna, Preston

These are people who have been entirely let down by society. No matter what happens, or how much the person involved is at fault, we as a community should never allow a situation to deteriorate to the point where a person does not have a roof over their headAnon

Bad luck could have put them in this situation. It is something that could happen to any of usAnon

In many cases, the circumstances around becoming homeless are not directly controlled by the person concerned. I've slept outside enough times to know that it's not a pleasant experience in many weathers, even without winter conditions” Alex S, Edinburgh

I feel sorry for the homeless because it is a very hard and cruel way to live, and most are there through no fault of their own. Others can be very unkind about the homeless, and don't see the people, just a problem to be avoided. They may have problems but have no-one to help get them out of trouble” Tan, Bournemouth

'I do not feel sorry for homeless people'

  • Those who said they did not feel sorry for homeless people justified their perception by arguing that in most cases their situation was self-inflicted, and that they felt homeless individuals choose not to take advantage of help this is available.

In the majority of cases, the reasons for homelessness are self-inflicted, and it seems like some people don't try hard enough by, for example, getting a job in order to support a home of their own” Anon

A lot of resources are in place to help homeless people, yet many choose to be homelessNeil, Burnham

“It's impossible to know any of the individual circumstances, but when they are seen with cigarettes and cans/bottles of alcohol it's very difficult to feel sorry for them Dave, Tamworth

They are homeless because of their own choices in life. Today's welfare system overpays the lazy and fecklessAnon

Mostly it is self-inflicted in some way; a behavioural way. Also they do get benefits – tax money – so why do they not use this to find a place to stay?William, Lincolnshire

Because everyone gets housing of some sort from the government unless they mess up their lives totally with drink, drugs, or criminal behaviour. I think that most homeless people are in that position because they made very bad choices in life” Anon

What’s your perspective on homelessness? Are you someone who buys the Big Issue?

Add your voice to the discussion below.