Props to them

For disabled people, selling Big Issue North can be a particularly valuable form of employment – and there are ways you can help as well as by buying the magazine

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Our latest vendor audit showed that nearly one in five of our vendors identify as disabled, defined as having a long-term illness or health condition that limits their daily activity.

This increases to almost half of our British vendors. Conditions include mental health problems, learning difficulties, dyslexia, asthma, COPD, diabetes, osteoporosis, arthritis, back pain, impaired mobility, poor circulation, epilepsy and hepatitis C.

This figure was not surprising to us. Access to mainstream employment is particularly difficult for disabled and chronically ill people. Disability charity Scope says disabled people are almost twice as likely to be unemployed as people without disabilities.

There are several reasons for this, but a 2019 study found that 82 per cent of disabled job seekers believe the main barrier to sourcing suitable employment is finding employers who are genuinely disability friendly. This can include problems with accessibility in work environments and a lack of awareness and empathy from employers regarding disabilities.

“I have a lot of health problems like COPD,” explains Kevin, a vendor based in Beverley. “The job centre is saying that I am not earning enough money and they keep saying I should stop doing it and get a different job. But I have found a job that I love doing and as long as I can keep doing it, I will. It also works around my health conditions. It’s a job that is suitable for me.”

Becoming a vendor is an easy way for people to earn an income, to be self-employed, to work hours that suit them and to have autonomy over their working life. For some of our disabled vendors, this flexibility allows them to work in ways that suit them and their health needs.

Michael, a vendor who works in Kirkstall, Leeds, sells the magazine part time. “I sell on my pitch two days a week – on a Tuesday and a Friday. I usually sell in the mornings for three hours each time. I have a learning disability so when I sell the magazine, I have a support worker nearby who helps me when I need it.

“I am happy when I have sold all my magazines. I like feeling independent and helping other people as well.”

Being a vendor also provides people with regular social interaction – something most of our vendors say helps improve their confidence, provides them with a structure to their day or gives them something to do.

Simon, a vendor in Harrogate who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2018, says: “I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have Big Issue North. I’d be just sat at home thinking about my MS. Selling the magazine keeps my mind off it, gives me something to do and helps me earn a little bit of money at the same time. It gives my mind something to do and gives my body something to do as well.”

While Big Issue North ensures becoming a vendor is as easy as possible for anyone, selling the magazine is not always an easy way to make a living. There is no such thing as a typical week’s income or guaranteed sales. Vendors can’t work from home; a day not on the streets selling is a day that they aren’t earning money. This can be particularly difficult for disabled vendors, especially with the cost-of-living crisis affecting disabled people more than ever. Scope estimates that monthly bills and costs are almost £600 higher for disabled people.

“Because of my illness I had to isolate for longer [after lockdown] so I couldn’t start selling the magazine again until a few weeks back,” says Simon, “I’m scraping by. I’m on some benefits, PIP and Universal Credit. I’m not exactly great with budgeting so by the time I’m due more benefits, I’m out of money. But I try my best.”

By supporting Big Issue North – through buying the magazine, talking to your local vendor, or donating to the Big Issue North Trust – you can help people like Simon, Kevin, and Michael to keep earning an income and support their ambitions to keep working.

If you would like to help us in our mission to support hundreds more people in need of work, please text BINORTH to 70970 to give £5, or visit Thank you so much for your support.

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