How much is too much?

Vendors want to improve their lives like anyone else – but this can be viewed in the wrong light

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For most of us, having simple aspirations is a source of motivation and incentive. Be it progressing in our chosen career, earning a bit more money, buying a new car, or looking for somewhere to go on holiday, these goals can help us move forward. 

Many of our vendors share similar aspirations. However, they also fear that they will be seen as doing “too well” and not in need of support anymore should they achieve their goals. 

This concern is not mere paranoia. Sadly, we field complaints most months regarding vendors driving cars or living in permanent accommodation, and even owning pets. 

Shaun, a vendor based in Hull, has owned his dog Ronnie for more than ten years. He saved hard to afford him and says that his canine friend significantly improves his mental health. Unfortunately, passers-by are not always supportive.

“Having the dog with me seems to invite them to give me abuse even more,” he says. “I get people coming up to me and saying: ‘I bet that [Ronnie] costs you loads of money to pay for.’”

Aaron, a vendor working in Doncaster, fears the reaction people would have if he bought a car. “I’d love to learn to drive and get my own car one day, but I don’t want people thinking that I am earning so much money from selling the magazine that I don’t need their support, because I really do.”

These attitudes put our vendors in a difficult position. On the one hand, they can be criticised for appearing to improve their life “too much”, causing people to assume that they are no longer in need of help. On the other hand, vendors face suspicion if they are not seen to be making significant improvements to their life while selling the magazine. 

Part of what we do at Big Issue North is to provide support beyond earning an income. Every day, vendors come into our regional offices to buy magazines to sell, and to speak with our office staff. Staff are available to offer help with anything from developing vendors’ skills to accessing English language courses and getting housing, financial or health advice. We can also signpost vendors to relevant support services when required, all of which can help vendors achieve their goals and improve their lives.

We work with every vendor to help them identify barriers they may face. Several have struggled with mental health, substance abuse, or have criminal records. These issues, teamed with poverty, inequality, and insecurity, often make keeping a job or a house difficult. 

Big Issue North gives people the chance to break out of challenging, damaging cycles a lot of people can find themselves in. Becoming a vendor is often a starting point for those who have been struggling. When vendors are able to achieve their goals and aspirations, it’s a reflection of how hard they have worked to support themselves, often against tough odds.

“I finally got a car, which I have been saving up for. My plan is to use it for work, to go and pick up magazines from the office in Hull and bring them back to my pitch,” says Kevin, a vendor in Beverley. Kevin has health conditions that have prevented him from securing other employment in the past. 

“It feels great to be back behind the wheel again. It’s really liberating. It’s so good. It’s a massive difference to how my life was some time ago – homeless on the streets to now back living in a house, having a car, and making plans for the future.” 

Every time you stop to buy a magazine or contribute to the Big Issue North Trust, you are helping our vendors to build the lives they want and deserve. This not only helps them earn an income but builds their self-esteem, confidence and motivation by showing them that people are championing their success. 

Photo: Kevin, a vendor in Beverley, says it’s liberating to be back behind the wheel again

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