The Big Issue : Social Return on Investment Report

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned Report


The Big Issue magazine launched in 1991 in response to the growing number of rough sleepers on the streets of London, by offering people the opportunity to earn a legitimate income through selling a magazine to the public. Thirty years on, vendors come from a variety of backgrounds and face the myriad of problems associated with poverty and inequality. Vendors buy The Big Issue magazine for £1.50 and sell it for £3 meaning each seller is a micro-entrepreneur who is working, not begging; a factor that also means the Big Issue is effectively directing surplus revenue directly to its beneficiaries.

The Big Issue Foundation (the sister charity of The Big Issue magazine) was founded in 1995 and works exclusively with the Big Issue vendors, connecting them to the vital support they need to enable them to rebuild their lives and determine their own pathways to a better future. Working in areas such as employment, training, education and learning, health care, housing, emergency support payments and personal development, The Big Issue Foundation seeks to deliver positive outcomes by supporting vendors to access the appropriate services and support to meet their individual needs. In 2019, The Big Issue worked with 4,000 unique vendors and supported, on average, 1,250 individuals each week. Across the year, Big Issue vendors sold 3.4 million copies of the magazine to the public. In that same year, The Big Issue Foundation achieved over 6,000 positive outcomes, including (not exclusively): gaining ID (such as driving license, passport or birth certificate), moving into permanent accommodation and accessing vital health services, all helping Big Issue vendors move forward with their lives. Together, the Big Issue and Big Issue Foundation have also delivered structured development projects to support vendors to achieve their best outcomes from working with the Big Issue. This includes, for example, an online LinkedIn training programme for online safety and promoting their micro-enterprise online. While the majority of Big Issue’s revenue is achieved through trading, the Covid-19 Pandemic (hereafter the ‘Pandemic’) has required Big Issue to develop its variety of services and support to vendors and to develop new ways to fund this work.

Increased scrutiny of public spending (Prowle, Murphy and Prowle, 2014) has increased expectations by funders and commissioners on organisations to provide information on the social impact of funded and commissioned activities (Clifford and Hazenberg, 2015). Demonstrating value for money is pivotal, not only for securing future funding, but for demonstrating and understanding effective service delivery (ibid). Identifying Social Return on Investment (SROI) ratios, allows organisations to constantly refine social interventions and undertake evidence-based organisational development, which is critical for developing effective and sustainable services (Hazenberg, Seddon and Denny, 2014).
Social Return on Investment (SROI) (Hall and Arvidson, 2013) is a methodological framework designed to measure the social and environmental value of services and activities for individuals, organisations and society. It creates a monetary social value using financial proxies that draws on the principles developed by the SROI Network:
- Involvement of stakeholders
- Understanding what changes
- Value of things that matter
- Include activities and support that are material
- Avoid over-claiming
- Transparency
- Verification of results

This SROI study identifies the areas in which The Big Issue are most successful in producing and measuring positive outcomes for vendors, whether that is supporting them to sell the magazine and increase their income or helping them with more personalised support and referrals to external services. These areas are outlined in The Big Issue Invest Theory of Change (ToC) (See Appendix A), proposed through the Working Group, that identifies the Big Issue Sales and Operations (S&O) and Foundation services that were available to all vendors across the UK. It outlines a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) with three key areas: Economic, Financial & Digital Inclusion and Housing. Other areas identified include: Physical Health, Mental Health, Debt Relief and Money Management, and Substance Misuse.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages40
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2022


  • Social Impact
  • SROI
  • Poverty
  • Homelessness


Dive into the research topics of 'The Big Issue : Social Return on Investment Report'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this