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.”