Independent Women

For many of our female vendors, selling the magazine is their chance to be self-employed and to earn an independent income.

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Eighteen years ago, only 10 per cent of our vendors were female. Today, around 40 percent are, demonstrating the greatest parity between male and female vendor numbers that we have ever had.

There is no singular reason for this shift in our demographics, but we believe that increases in homelessness plays a significant part. Our latest vender audit data showed that women are more likely to be homeless or have experience of homelessness (40 per cent) than men (27 per cent).

These numbers are echoed across the country. Rough sleeping has risen for seven consecutive years in England. Data from the University of York indicates at least 14 per cent of rough sleepers in England are women. However, researchers caveat that existing systems in England do not accurately record all the women experiencing homelessness.

This is because women are more likely to experience hidden homelessness (when people are homeless but out of sight). They rely heavily on informal arrangements with family or friends, or they take to sheltering in locations that are open 24 hours: supermarkets, hospitals or train stations, for example.

For many women experiencing homelessness, trying to stay safe on the streets is the primary focus.

Of our vendors who categorise themselves as homeless or having experienced homelessness (i.e., not having their own tenancy), 19 per cent said that the cause stemmed from relationship problems and breakdowns. This includes trying to escape domestic abuse and violent situations. Other reasons included relocation, a breakdown in mental health, bereavement and job loss.

Yet, whilst 45 per cent of our vendors have previously been employed, male vendors are far more likely to have previous employment experience (67 per cent) than women (13 per cent). Similarly, men are more likely to hold formal qualifications (37 per cent) than women (6 per cent). Two thirds of vendors do not speak English as a first language. This has a direct impact on earning power and potential. Many female vendors report having struggled to find more mainstream sources of income in the past.

This is, again, partly down to demographics. A vast number of our female vendors are from Roma backgrounds, which has often impacted their access to education or training. In traditional Roma communities, gender norms are common practice; women usually marry early and have babies at a young age. They are then expected to stay at home to manage housework and take care of their family. Education and work are not typically a priority.

Home and childcare responsibilities are an increased source of poverty risk amongst women. Most of our female vendors are mothers or caregivers, impacting their ability to work in certain roles at certain times.

“When I am not selling the magazine, I look after my children,” says Angrustina, a vendor based in Sheffield. She has sold the magazine for two years, having originally come from Romania to find work and support her family. “I have two children. My daughter is four and my son is two. My daughter starts school in September. I’m going to be very emotional.”

For many of our female vendors, the flexibility the job affords is a big upside. Becoming a vendor is a way for women like Angrustina to be self-employed and to work hours that suit them. It is also a chance to earn an independent income.

It is that income that can be so relied on by our vendors and their families. On average, a vendor earns £60 per week. As selling The Big Issue is a formally recognised form of self-employment, vendors don’t receive paid leave or sick pay. When sales are down, it has a big impact, as Angrustina knows: “At the moment, sales aren’t great. I don’t sell as much – sometimes I only sell two magazines a day.”

By supporting vendors through buying the magazine or donating to the Big Issue North Trust, you can help women like Ana-Cristina, who are just trying to earn a living. Every penny goes towards helping vendors to keep earning an income, to get them access to support and advice, and to help them to improve their lives.

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