Anorak | Daily Mail stigmatises Big Issue sellers as dirty, foreign cheats

Daily Mail stigmatises Big Issue sellers as dirty, foreign cheats

by | 22nd, January 2012

ONE in three Big Issue vendors is Romanian. So says the Daily Mail. This apparent fact might mean that 33% of homeless people seeking to help themselves by selling the magazine are Romanian. Or it might mean something else. It might mean nothing. But because this is news in the Daily Mail it means only one thing: bloody foreigners coming over here and stealing our homeless people’s standing spaces:

One-third of Big Issue sellers now Romanian: Job once reserved for Britain’s homeless has been swamped by Eastern European immigrants. And many of them have homes AND claim benefits.

SWAMPED. And it was never reserved for Britain’s homeless, if by that the Mail means homeless people born in Britain.

The Big Issue describes its vendors thus:

Vendors are people who are homeless, vulnerably housed or at risk of homelessness because of significant issues such as unemployment or a financial crisis.


In 2010/2011, The Big Issue attracted thousands of new vendors. Less than half the new vendors were still selling the magazine four weeks after their initial induction.

It’s a fantastic scheme that gives people in dire circumstances cash, a job and their dignity.

But to the Mail’s Nick Constable it is:

Over the past 20 years, they have become a familiar fixture on Britain’s high streets: bedraggled, wrapped up against the elements and far from freshly washed – but often with an engaging line in patter.

They are dirty, poor but cheerful, eh, Nick.

…over the past year or two, there has been a noticeable change in the appearance of the typical Big Issue seller, with women from the poorer parts of Eastern Europe, in their long skirts and headscarves, increasingly replacing the male, native British homeless people.

Gawd bless the Great British homeless with their Great British dirt, Great British trousers, Great British knitted hats and Great British patter. Not like those foreigner swith their skits and headscarves, pretending to look like Great British old women.

The situation was brought into focus last week when Romanian Firuta Vasile, a mother of four who sold the magazine in Bristol, was given the legal right to claim housing benefit on top of the other aid she already receives.

Good for her. She’s clearly keen to work and make better life for herself.

A court ruled that because she paid for the magazines using her own money and sold them at a profit or a loss, she was classed as self-employed. The landmark decision means that she – and other immigrants from Bulgaria and Romania, the nations that are not yet full members of the EU – can claim the housing benefit they were not previously entitled to.

They just have to get here, live rough and rely on the kindness of strangers. Easy.

One site enlarges:

A Big Issue seller who was refused entitlement to housing benefits fought Bristol City Council back and won.

On a mere £100 a month, it was proving difficult for Fruita Vasile to provide for herself and her family. She approached the Bristol City Council for help and they turned her away. The council told her that she was not entitled to housing benefits because she was Romanian, and that working for the Big Issue did not count as being in employment or classified as self-employment.

She appealed to the social security tribunal. She challenged the local authority and argued that a person selling the Big Issue should be classified as being self employed. A spokesperson of the Big Issue foundation said: “Big issue vendors use their own money to buy their magazines and sell them at their own profit or loss.”

However, many have suggested that Romanian immigrants are selling the Big Issue to gain benefits as it provides a tax loop hole.

Aneela Akhbar, a trainee solicitor opines:

This is a great success and an encouragement for people willing and able to work that struggle to support their families. On the other hand, a spokesperson for the Manchester City Council where the numbers of Romanian Big Issue sellers are high says: “These people aren’t homeless, they are all in houses. But because they have found a loophole which gives them access to benefits, selling the magazine is now and end in itself and not about genuine self employment.”

Chris Grayling, Minister for Employment, said:

We disagree with the court’s decision. Maintaining the security and integrity of the benefit system is our top priority which is why we are trying to restore fairness to the benefits system and will be keeping the rules around the payment of benefits to people from abroad under review.

“We have to remain in line with our national and international obligations. However, it is absolutely necessary to protect the tax payer and the benefit system from possible abuse.”

What did Fruita Vasile get? The Mail says:

Miss Vasile had already managed to obtain £25,500 a year in benefits, but she took the city council to a tribunal last year after it refused to pay her housing benefit. Her victory, upheld last week by a senior tribunal in London, will now give her at least £2,600 in additional payments each year.

A lawyer offers:

Will Stone, supervising solicitor at Avon and Bristol Law Centre, said that the case meant that many more people could be helped and that a person’s nationality had nothing to do with it.

He said: “Some people feel this has become an immigration issue and are treating it as such, but it’s actually about clarifying that selling the magazine does count as self-employment. People who sell the magazine come from all walks of life but have found themselves having little opportunity for work. Being able to sell the Big Issue actually encourages people to get off benefits and become self-sufficient.”

Says Vasile, who has four children, one of whom is severely disabled:

“I came to the UK in 2007 to look for work. The only work I could find was selling the Big Issue on the streets of Bristol. I can keep half of the money I take and I usually make around £100 per week. This isn’t enough to meet all my family’s needs so I asked the council for housing benefit to help with my rent. My claim was turned down. I was told that because I am Romanian I could not get benefits unless I have a job or I am in self-employment. They said work for the Big Issue didn’t count. I got legal support and was helped with an appeal. My adviser got lots of evidence that selling the Big Issue really is self-employment. We won the appeal at a local tribunal last year but the council appealed. The case was taken to the upper tribunal last week and we won. I am really pleased if this decision means that people from countries like Romania and Bulgaria who come to the UK to work hard are not treated unfairly.”

Stephen Robertson, chief executive of The Big Issue Foundation, said:

“Big Issue vendors use their own money to buy their magazines and sell them at their own profit or loss. It is by no means an easy task. I am pleased that this ruling represents an important acceptance of the challenges and the opportunities that the magazine mechanism represents for people, regardless of where they come from.”

The Mail does not use that quote. But it does quote John Bird, who founded the Big Issue and now advises the Government on its Big Society project:

“We did not start The Big Issue as a means for people to top up benefits. I am not going to stand by and watch this organisation have a namby-pamby attitude to the poor. It would be like throwing away the last 20 years. If we find anyone going near the benefits system, we will expose them. It is appalling.”

He makes no mention of one ethnic group. He says anyone who sells the Big Issue to get more benefits is undoing his aim.

In the Mail, Nick Constable adds:

The Mail on Sunday launched an investigation to determine the full ramifications of this decision, and we have established that almost one in three Big Issue sellers – 700 out of a nationwide force of 2,250 registered vendors according to the magazine – come from Romania.

Although 50% of Big Issue vendors no longer need the work after 4 weeks.

How many of those non-Romanians are on benefits and living in homes? We are not told.

British Big Issue vendors have also alleged that some Roma ‘gipsies’ organise gangs selling the magazines on a large-scale basis – even turning up to distribution points in luxury cars – and intimidate other sellers on their pitches.

The Mail claims to have conducted an “investigation”. Well, did it investigate that allegation? No. Has it provided photographs of these big cars? No. Do we know who organises the “gangs”(why not communities)? No.

John Bird tells the paper:

“In the past Jews and Indians were given the opportunity to come here and work their way out of poverty – and they did. But we can’t even get Romanian groups in the UK to work with the Roma people. We ring them up and say, ‘Look, we’re working with a lot of Romanians now. Can you help?’ They tell us, ‘These people aren’t Romanians. They’re gipsies.’That’s the real problem – no one wants to know them.”

Bloody hell. How hard must it be to be a Romany from Romania? How hard is it to sell the Big Issue and live rough? Ralph Millward could have told you.

Back to that “investigation”:

The Mail on Sunday last week spoke to Big Issue sellers in several British cities. In Glasgow, five of the seven vendors we found were Romanian.

Says the Big Issue:

The organisation currently works with around 2800 homeless and vulnerably housed people across the UK. Did the investigating Mail find random sample – or did it just find a group of Romanians who believe that when it comes to selling a magazine on the streets of a foreign country theree is safety in numbers?

The Mail adds:

In Nottingham, a British vendor claimed that a third of all the pitches used by Big Issue vendors were occupied by Romanians, often in outlying areas of the city or in other East Midlands towns such as Derby, Loughborough and Leicester. They also travel to small towns on the days when there are street markets.

Were these claims investigated? No.

The Mail hears from Conservative MP David Davies:

“The Big Issue was set up to help the homeless, not as a racket to allow people to migrate over here so they can play on people’s generosity and claim benefits. This is going to undermine trust in the magazine among the public who want to help those in genuine need.”

No. It isn’t. It will just mean people will not buy them from Romanians.

On the Big Issue website, a section called “Our Vendors” features eight ‘staff’. None are Romanian.

The Big Issue issues a statement:

The Big Issue exists to offer homeless people and those at risk of homelessness the opportunity to work and earn an income. This is offered irrespective of a person’s background or origin.

Earning their own money reduces dependency on hand-outs from the state, charities and the public – a fact not lost on the Prime Minister who described The Big Issue as ‘a fantastic example of how we can reduce dependence on state hand-outs’.

Yet very few people choose to take this opportunity. The reasons for this are two-fold. Firstly, selling The Big Issue is by no means an easy way to make a living – it involves using one’s own money to pay for copies, standing on the street for hours on end, braving all weathers and sometimes being subjected to abuse by members of the public. Secondly, successive governments have made it possible and acceptable for huge numbers of people to claim sizeable hand-outs which leave them disinclined to go out and earn their own money.

It goes without saying that The Big Issue plays no role in shaping either immigration or welfare policy, however we would call on the government to tackle the culture of benefit dependency which has rendered so many people unwilling to work.

We sincerely hope that this story does not have negative consequences for any of our Big Issue vendors, all of whom are working, not begging, and are therefore a lesser burden to the state than those who are solely dependent on benefits.

The Mail’s “investigation” follows the Telegraph’s story in May 2011, in which we met a Romanian family who had secured housing benefit and National Insurance numbers by dint of selling the Big Issue. Caroline Price, director of the Big Life Company, publishes the Big Issue in the North, said back then:

“We don’t encourage immigrants to register to sell the Big Issue, we help whoever asks. We don’t discriminate. We see large numbers of them because most are unable to work in this country. Selling the magazine is a very flexible and accessible way to overcome the barriers they face. Many of them are homeless or living in overcrowded accommodation and we help those who need it.”

No laws have been broken. Some – and we do not know how many – might be seeking to exploit a loophole. But rather than investigate, the Mail uses words like “swamped” to stigmatise all poor foreigners selling the Big Issue…

Note: “In July 2011, four photographers from around the world held a special 7-day workshop in Glasgow, Scotland. Organised by INSP and led by veteran photographer David Burnett, the photographers coached four homeless vendors of The Big Issue in Scotland. Working together, the group documented the daily lives of the vendors through photography and film. Their mission was to depict personal stories, explore the challenges faced by people experiencing homelessness, and to give the local and international community an intimate glimpse of the issues faced by a growing number of people experiencing homelessness and economic hardship.” None were Romanian:

Caption: Daniel’s photograph of the bridge that often provides shelter for those who do not have homes.

Posted: 22nd, January 2012 | In: Reviews Comments (6) | Follow the Comments on our RSS feed: RSS 2.0 | TrackBack | Permalink