The Big Issue was originally set up in London in 1991 with the aim of helping homeless people by giving them a ‘hand-up, not a hand-down’. Gordon Roddick of The Body Shop was inspired by Street News, a newspaper he saw in New York, and Roddick and A. John Bird launched the first issue in London with the help of The Body Shop International. The magazine is sold on the street for a cover price of £1 (as at 16th May, 2002, in Scotland - London prices are higher), while the vendor only pays 40p for his copy. This therefore gives homeless people a legitimate way of clothing and feeding themselves, without resorting to begging.

The articles in The Big Issue tend to lean towards the left of the political spectrum, often discussing issues such as poverty and, of course, homelessness. The magazine is designed also to appeal to the general public, however, and includes articles of general interest, album, film, and book reviews, small ads and a crossword. As such it successfully appeals to those merely looking for something to read on the bus or train, as well as those buying purely for charitable motives.

In Britain, there are many branches of the Big Issue family tree – the London-based and eponymous The Big Issue, The Big Issue in Scotland, The Big Issue Cymru in Wales, and the The Big Issue in the North, as well as The Big Issue Foundation, which sponsors other homeless work like health projects. The Big Issue in Scotland distributes its copies in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, and Fife.

There is now an International Network of Street Papers with at least 40 members in over 20 countries. For those who are interested, the websites are listed below.

The Big Issue (naturally!)