13 August 2014

Street papers combat Victorian attitudes of the "undeserving poor"

By David Meiklejohn

The INSP conference in Glasgow today warned that this generation is at risk of reverting to a Victorian idea of the “undeserving poor” – but said that street papers provide an answer.

“This generation might have something in common with the Victorian generation, we are creating an idea of undeserving poor,” argued Jim Mullan, CEO of The Big Issue UK.

“Social enterprise combats that attitude, that is where our mission is and this is where we are most powerful.”

These powerful words emerged in a debate about how street papers around the world balance their social mission with economic stability.

Featuring Mullan, Ole Sku from Hus Forbi in Denmark, Steven Persson of The Big Issue Australia and Paulo Gallo of Swiss paper Surprise, and chaired by Fay Selvan of The Big Issue in the North, the panel debate examined how INSP members make decisions over what funding to accept.

“It does matter [where we get finance from],” Mullan added. “If there is no margin there is no mission, but there has to be a mission. 

“It is very important we stand together as a group, it is perfectly possible to meet the needs of homeless people with without exploitation, and without having someone in a dark room making a lot of money.”

INSP Secretary and The Big Issue Australia representative Steven Persson [pictured] argued that due to the number of benefits being handed out by the government, it was important for potential customers to recognise the magazine is not being reliant on taxpayers’ money. He added that the product “has to be in the marketplace as receiving no government funding.”

This sentiment was echoed by other panelists, with Ole Sku of Danish paper Hus Forbi saying: “It is very important for us not to be dependent [on government funding]. Both politically and economically, we like to be independent.”

Tim Harris, founder of Seattle-based Real Change, also spoke of how funding would have to meet certain criteria before being accepted.

“For me it comes back to the mission alignment,” he said. “All of our decisions about funding run through that filter, if the money is in line with our mission then we would take it. But for example, we would not take money from Walmart.”