Big Issue responds to objections against Fairhills-collaboration

26 Jul

Dear Tabard Objectors!

The media has taken a particular interest in the fact that The Big Issue has teamed up with a wine company to produce some distinctive red jackets. The jackets –tabards-  as well as The Big Issue logo on it has the wine company’s emblem.

The media likes contradictions. Why would The Big Issue, which works with people who have drink problems, do such a thing? The News Statesman even got a Big Issue staff member to say “John Bird should be ashamed of himself”.

No, it was apparently an insult to the recovering vendors, with the Big Issue staff member saying that drink was the worse problem they  handle.

Suggestions of a betrayal of core values were also mentioned in the same feedback, this time from a homeless worker working with Big Issue vendors.

There may be much to think about in this controversy, though I don’t think it is about a betrayal of core values. Rather it might be about how we work with the homeless in our upcoming twentieth year.

The biggest temptation for homeless people with drink problems is to be found in the money they get for selling. That really is a big issue. It’s what warned people from the homeless sector off from working with us.

They did not like the idea that homeless people would get their hands on money, which would then be passed on to Costcutters for cans and bottles. So they backed off from The Big Issue.

My argument in starting The Big Issue was simple. We had to get homeless people to earn their own money so that they did not get into trouble feeding their habits. That homeless people needed to be de-criminalized away from wrong doing.

That the road to recovery had to mean passing through the marketplace and not avoiding it. We had to break people from handouts. We had to get people earning their own money so that we could move them on to an independent life.

That making your own money was a part of recovery.

If the aggrieved staff member is right about the tabards then really we should be rethinking the whole thing. And we should be stopping people form earning money. For as sure as eggs is eggs some of that money will go on drink.

The tabards will enable people to see their vendor better. Thereby helping us to fulfill our core values better; which is to give the homeless the chance to make more of an independent income. Away from handouts and wrong doing. Away from dependency.

If I felt that a wine emblem would draw people closer to habitual drinking I would not endorse the use of the emblem on the tabard. As a recovering alcoholic I would not dice with the death and destruction of others.

But I will not be a part of some tokenistic purity argument that deflects our thinking from the need to rethink our work.

If there is a fly in our ointment it is that we need to be a great deal more creative in dealing with the thousands and thousands of people in need who come through our door each year.

And that means reinvention time. And that means being cruelly critical with our present efforts. So lets have a real argument and not one about who’s the purest in the land.

*John Bird is founder of The Big Issue


One Response to “Big Issue responds to objections against Fairhills-collaboration”


  1. Fairhills Wine Ad a Big Issue | World of Fairhills's Blog - July 26, 2010

    […] the response of The Big Issue founder, John Bird. This entry was posted in Latest news and events. Bookmark the permalink. […]

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