John Bird, Big Issue, ‘Entrepreneur’, Foe of the Idle Poor, Enters the House of Lords.
His Birdship’s Latest Book.
John Bird, the founder of the Big Issue, is to join the House of Lords as one of four new non-party-political peers. The homelessness campaigner was among those selected by the House of Lords Appointments Commission to sit crossbench.
Bird, who set up the street magazine in 1991 as a way for the homeless to earn money, said he hoped to inject some new ideas into policy making.
“Mine will be a voice in the legislative process for the thousands of people the Big Issue has helped over the past 24 years and continues to help today through our philosophy of social entrepreneurialism based on self-help,” he said.
“I believe that one of the complexities of modern policy is that sometimes the best thinkers, like the Big Issue, are left outside the box. Yet if we are to have social opportunity and social justice for all, the thinking within the box needs to change.”
Here are some of the new ideas Lord Birdship – as we will have to get used to calling him – has promoted in recent years:
“We have to stop supplying people with the means of being emergency refugees on the streets… no one has ever got off the streets simply because they’ve been fed a good bowl of soup.”
An outspoken social campaigner who founded a magazine sold by homeless people has called on the Prime Minister to cut state benefits.
John Bird, founder of homeless charity The Big Issue, urged David Cameron to reform Britain’s benefits system which he believes traps the worst-off in poverty while fuelling addictions.
Bird believes that before they receive benefits the unemployed should be involved in community work, and that this would help them back into work
However his idea that people must work before they can receive benefits was condemned by Citizens Advice Scotland, the umbrella body supporting Scottish citizens advice bureaux, as “beset with flaws.”
And the Poverty Alliance, the anti-poverty network in Scotland which unites, among others, charities and community groups, said the assumption that people living on low incomes did not want to work was “simply discrimination” .
Bird maintained society had made it possible for too many to live on benefits without helping themselves gain the experience and confidence needed to find work
‘”That’s not only damaging to individuals, it’s damaging to society.”
He added: “The drug crime industry would be lost without the support of the welfare state.
”The drinks industry and fast food outlets such as Macdonalds would be hard hit without the government pounds being placed in their tills by benefit claimants.”
As would “existing government structures that misguidedly make life easier for the poor entrench poverty, exclusion and hopelessness.”
People who are unemployed are to be allowed to sell the Big Issue on the streets alongside the homeless for the first time.
As public sector cuts and the economic downturn fuel job losses, the co-founder of the magazine, John Bird, told Society Guardian he wanted those who find themselves out of work, and the long-term unemployed, to have the chance to earn an income rather than get stuck on benefits.
He predicted “the most unlikely people”, including well-paid professionals would become potential Big Issue sellers in the coming years.
On the programme Benefits Street. February 2014.
Benefits Street has rocked the benefits boat. More than any single TV programme I can remember, it shows a dark, dirty and destructive underside of benefit.
It’s a free system, given freely, replacing people’s need to look after their own means of making a living. The state, using our money, buys the time of benefit recipients, and then stands back and watches as some go down the tube.
The benefit system needs to change. It cannot be an endless alternative to work. It has to come with strings attached. People on benefit must help people in the community who need our help – the old, the disabled and the needy.
Benefit needs to be of benefit to the beneficiary. It must help them get prepared for an independent life. Training, job preparation and volunteering are keys to changing people’s lives so they can get out.
More on his Birdship’s ennoblement in the Big Issue.
John Bird said: “Mine will be a voice in the legislative process for the thousands of people The Big Issue has helped over the past 24 years and continues to help today through our philosophy of social entrepreneurialism based on self-help.
“I believe that one of the complexities of modern policy is that sometimes the best thinkers, like The Big Issue, are left outside the box. Yet if we are to have social opportunity and social justice for all, the thinking within the box needs to change.”
John Bird founded The Big Issue in 1991 as a street magazine to be sold by the homeless with half the proceeds of every sale going to the vendors, thus giving them the opportunity of earning money through their own efforts rather than depending on handouts.
Since then the magazine has put over £100 million directly into the pockets of homeless individuals, sold almost 200 million copies and has helped thousands of homeless people move themselves away from poverty.
In 1995 John Bird launched the Big Issue Foundation, a charity that supports Big Issue vendors in dealing with the issues that have caused their homelessness or have developed as a result of their living on the street.
He continues to serve on the Board of Directors for The Big Issue. In 2001, with The Big Issue chairman Nigel Kershaw, he launched Big Issue Invest the social investment arm of the Big Issue which provides finance to help develop social enterprises and charities.
John Bird continues to serve on the Board of Directors *for The Big Issue and is a global speaker on motivational and social issues.
Baroness Morris of Yardley, who along with Baron Alton of Liverpool, nominated John Bird, said: “I’m delighted that John Bird has been appointed as a cross-bench member of the House of Lords. His work with members of our community who face considerable challenges and his successful track record in helping people to overcome them means that he will bring great experience and knowledge to the Lords.
“More than that, he has the determination and the tenacity to argue for what he believes to be the right way forward in key areas of social policy.”
Bird was a member of the Workers Revolutionary Party.
But, “Bird revealed in 2010 “My guilty secret is that I’m really a working class Tory. There, I’ve said it. I’d love to be a liberal because they’re the nice people but it’s really hard work – I can’t swallow their gullibility and I think their ideas are stupid. I’d love to be someone who wanders around in a kind of Utopian paradise seeing only the good in everybody but I just can’t. I support capital punishment for a start. I know this will destroy my reputation among middle-class liberals but I’m 64 now and I should be able to breathe a bit. Wearing the corsetry of liberalism means that every now and then you have to take it off.”
* It would be interesting to know for what trifling emolument he graces the Big Issue Board, and what his Birdship earns from his toil as an “entrepreneur”, hard at the coalface of after-dinner speaking, blessing the poor and admonishing others less entrepreneurial than his self.