The Big Issue by Kit Withnail

(originally posted on Kit Withnail’s blog)

So it seems David Cameron is to edit the next edition of the Big Issue.

This should come as a surprise to none. The Big Issue is perhaps one of the most foul and conservative institutions working in homelessness in the UK. Its libertarian fuckwittery is summed up exactly in its tagline, “Working Not Begging”.

I’ll level with yous. I’ve been both homeless and vulnerably housed for long periods of time, and in my mental health case work I’ve worked with a lot more people in the same situation. And nothing, but nothing, prepares you for how you are treated – spat at by passersby, beaten and repeatedly mugged by others, including other homeless people as desperate for the means to survive as you are, and repeatedly beaten, searched and mugged by police as well, who deliberately won’t arrest you for the devilry of depriving you of a bed. If you’re found with drugs or alcohol on you, it’s still unlikely you’ll be arrested, just beaten and moved on, which means into the wet and cold from wherever you’ve been found. And they come back and check you aren’t still there. And there’s no need for them to kick softly. Nobody really notices when someone homeless dies. I was first kicked in the head by a policeman when I was five years old. This is the reality of homelessness.

And begging- begging is the single most humiliating thing you will ever do. You stink. Your hair is matted, your clothes soaked and muddy, your stuff is falling out of ripped tesco bags and you’re in their way. You quite possibly don’t have the strength to stand up, and you certainly don’t have the mental strength to look them in the eye and not feel shame, right to your core. The can of Tennents Super that’s the only thing blocking out the cold and the inevitable sores in your hand makes them shrink from you. And you know what they’re thinking. They’re thinking “Ugh.” They’re thinking “He’s there because he’s addicted to drugs. It’s his own fault”. They’re thinking “If I give him money – I can see what will happen! It will be spent on beer!”. Well, so fucking what.

This is what John Bird sees. And what is his solution? I will make these people salesmen. They will sell products, products nobody wants, and to make things worse, I will make them pay for the privilege. That way, he thinks, these people won’t be able to spend half the money they make. The more desperate their need one night, the less they’ll make the next. It’ll teach them.

It’ll teach them the world fucking hates them.

Working not Begging? Only the sickest libertarian scumbag with a hatred for the homeless so blind that he refuses point-blank to understand how it happens could have come up with this foul slogan.

When I was first homeless in the sense of sleeping on the streets, I was looked after by a man called Alf. Alf had acid burns on his cheek and shoulder so deep that you could see open bone for a week before it healed over. He’d been given them because he got one of those ‘payday loans’ from a pawnbrokers’. He’d missed a payment. Interest on those things is about 3000%, so what he missed quickly spiralled out of control. The pawnbrokers, a chain firm incidentally, called the bailiffs. They discovered Alf had nothing they could sell. He’d sold everything already just to make rent. So they called the ‘boys’, and Alf’s debt got passed on to local organised crime. It went from £600 to £6000 that day, with a demand to pay it in a month. Alf was on benefits. He couldn’t -didn’t – do it. They threw acid over his face and set fire to his house. His landlord evicted him. Hello, homelessness.

Alf’s story isn’t remotely unique, and nor does it end there. Nearly 40,000 people die every year from the cold. It claimed Alf, three years later. I was lucky enough to be adopted by a loving family. If I’d been older I’d likely have had the same fate.

It’s none of your fucking business what someone spends the money you give them on. You aren’t ‘keeping them in a cycle of dependency’. You aren’t ‘contributing to the drugs trade’. Yeah, lots of homeless people are addicted to drugs. Yeah, lots are to alcohol. Yeah, they spend money on it. But exactly what the fuck do you think you are doing denying them even the possibility of help? Do you think you control addiction by keeping someone in the rain, in the cold? Do you think you control addiction by giving your sarcastic fucking sausage roll? Do you know why they’re addicted? Has it occurred to you that all they want is to stop hurting and stop feeling? You really want to help? Give them money. Fucking talk to them.

What fosters this kneejerk hatred of the homeless and their motives and deeds is exactly the Big Issue’s rhetoric. “Why aren’t they working?” “Why can’t they get a job?” “Why can’t they get off drugs and alcohol?” “Why don’t they have any ambition?”… Why? BECAUSE BEING HOMELESS DESTROYS EVERYTHING YOU ARE.

So let Cameron edit the Big Issue. And for fucks’ sake, buy it. Even better, give them the money and tell them to keep the magazine, pride allowing. But don’t be surprised. Cameron’s natural home is this rightwing institution, fostering the hatred of the vulnerable and yet couching itself as an idea of help. And it’s time we made it clear to the political class. Nobody deserves to be homeless, and there’s no excuse for it.

the twitter debate

Kit Withnail
Wrote thing about Big Issue and homelessness. Sweary. Incoherent. Angry. Etc

in reply to ↑

Kathleen Caskie
@kit_withnail I think it was me who came up with the ‘working not begging’ slogan when I worked at Big Issue in Scotland.

@kit_withnail I am not a sick libertarian scumbag. The vendors wanted to distinguish themselves from street beggars to make more money.

Kit Withnail
.@KathleenCaskie Thanks for writing to me Kathleen.

Kit Withnail
.@KathleenCaskie But if a vendor asks to be differentiated from a beggar, your response should have been “Don’t ever be ashamed to beg.”

Kit Withnail
.@KathleenCaskie “Of course it’s an activity with huge stigma, amongst the worst imaginable. But we have decided to help change that.”

Kit Withnail
.@KathleenCaskie Instead you drove a wedge between the homeless, separating apparently deserving from apparently non-deserving.

Kit Withnail
.@KathleenCaskie Did you never think that increasing division between the homeless would increase violence?

Kit Withnail
.@KathleenCaskie Most of us can’t stand someone who thinks they’re better than the rest of us. And yet your slogan enforced that division.

Kit Withnail
.@KathleenCaskie Can’t you see that the kneejerk antipathy to the homeless is helped by the idea that their salvation is in their own hands?

Kit Withnail
.@KathleenCaskie I’d like to ask you a question Kathleen. What exactly is wrong with begging?

Kathleen Caskie
@kit_withnail You’re missing the point. It was not about being anti-begging. The paper was losing sales rapidly.

Kit Withnail
.@KathleenCaskie You’ve not answered either of my questions. Why isn’t the BI a charity? And what is wrong with begging?

Kathleen Caskie
@kit_withnail What is wrong with begging? Read your own piece. Degrading, dehumanising, at risk of violence. Idea of BI is a working alt.

Matt Moran (@sciamachy)
@KathleenCaskie @kit_withnail surely the only diff is a fairly crappy paper nobody reads, & lack of cops harassing?

@sciamachy @kit_withnail Yeah, wasn’t MEANT to be ‘crappy’ . . we wanted people to buy it because they wanted to read it. Not sure success.

Matt Moran (@sciamachy)
@KathleenCaskie @kit_withnail I think those that buy it generally do so out of wish to help seller, rather than wish to read content.

Kathleen Caskie
@sciamachy @kit_withnail This was huge problem. Without a product that people actually WANTED, the business model fell down.

Kit Withnail
.@KathleenCaskie have you BEEN homeless?? Do you KNOW how it happens?? It isn’t fucking laziness!
20 hours ago Favorite Retweet Reply

Kathleen Caskie
@kit_withnail Kit, I worked for homelessness organisations for 15 years, so I think I have a rough idea of the causal factors, yes.


About housolidarity

We call for a radical housing movement as part of broader solidarity against austerity and an end to all evictions.
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