Big Issue North sellers left jobless after yearlong lockdown restrictions have forced them off the streets

  • Big Issue North vendors have been unable to sell the magazine for over 26 weeks
  • The Hardship Fund used to support vendors is depleting
  • How you can support the Big Issue North

Big Issue (BI) North vendors have lost their vital source of income after the coronavirus lockdown restrictions have meant they can no longer sell the magazine on the streets of Manchester. 

Vendors are legally recognised as self-employed, but they cannot work from home and do not qualify for the government’s furlough scheme, meaning their primary source of income stopped during the pandemic.

After the lockdown restrictions came into force on 23 March last year, the BI North created the Hardship Fund which provides financial aid to their vendors while they could not work.

Image of two Big Issue North vendors holding magazines to sell.
Vendors have been unemployed for weeks (Credit: Solent Creatives)

Brontë Schiltz, communications and fundraising officer for BI North, said: “Vendors are self-employed so normally they buy the magazines from us for £1.50 and sell them for £3 but now they haven’t been able to work they’ve been completely reliant on us.”

MOre than 1,000 people sell for the BI North throughout the year with around 250 to 350 vendors at any one time, with a third of vendors being homeless and the rest vulnerably housed.

The graph below shows five cities in Yorkshire and the North West with the highest numbers of rough sleepers on an autumn night last year.

Brontë added: “We have had less money this time which means we’ve had to prioritise who get those payments more so if it completely ran out it would be quite disastrous.”

Money donated to the Hardship Fund is used to support vendors in many ways such as:
  • Breakfast club projects
  • Educational courses like CV writing and interview skills
  • External courses like a college course or an English language course
  • Training courses, for example, last year there was CPR training delivered by St John Ambulance
  • Home furnishing packages which provide furniture and little things like towels and toothpaste
  • Helping vendors to get a formal ID

One of the main goals BI North has this year is to help as many vendors as possible to get an ID so that contactless card readers could be introduced as an alternate payment method to cash.

Brontë said: “The difficulty with contactless card readers is that most of them need a smartphone which quite a lot of our vendors don’t have. 

“We use SumUp which also requires proof of address so that excludes our homeless vendors, and because of that part of what they needed was ID.”

Studies from The Bank of England shows that in 2019 only 23% of transactions across England were completed using cash, with people preferring to use debit cards and digital payments like Apple Pay.

During the pandemic, the use of cash in transactions has decreased because of the risk of further spreading the virus through banknotes the study also shows.

Image of a Big Issue North vendor Cristina selling magazines on a busy street.
Cristina hard at work before the lockdown restrictions (Credit: Rebecca Lupton)

Brontë said that vendors run their own small business as they buy the magazines from BI North offices and then sell them to the public.

This allows vendors to learn to budget and ensure all the magazines are sold and not wasted, but also boosts their self-esteem so that vendors do not have to rely on charity.

BI North takes pride in being a social enterprise that gives independence to vendors and allows them to take control over their lives.

Inside the magazine, you can find news articles, book reviews, interviews with significant Northern figures like artists and politicians, and much more.

Donate to the Hardship Fund here and buy The Big Issue North here or from your local shop.