Big Issue founder joins House of Lords

The founder of The Big Issue John Bird is one of four non-party-political peers to be appointed to the House of Lords, it has been announced today.

Bird is a global champion of social entrepreneurship, having launched The Big Issue in London in 1991. The street newspaper is written by professional journalists and sold by people who are homeless. Starting off in London The Big Issue is now sold in cities around the world.

Lord Bird joins a growing chorus of social enterprise champions in the House of Lords, where the movement is already represented by peers such as Baroness Glenys Thornton, the founding chair of Social Enterprise UK; Lord Victor Adebowale, CEO of Turning Point and a former government appointed 'Social Enterprise Ambassador'; Lord Andrew Mawson, co-founder of CAN and the renowed Bromley by Bow Centre; Baroness Barker, the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for the voluntary sector and social enterprise; and the late Lord Michael Young – founder of the School for Social Entrepreneurs, the Open University and the Consumers' Association.

As a crossbencher, John Bird will owe no allegiance to any political party and will be free to take part in legislative debates free of the constraints of party considerations and consensus politics. He was appointed by the independent House of Lords Appointments Commission alongside vice chancellor of Aston University Julia King, world-renowned civil engineer Robert Mair and emeritus professor of healthcare leadership at Plymouth University Mary Watkins.

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.”

In 1995, 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. And in 2005 he launched Big Issue Invest, the social investment arm of The Big Issue, which provides finance to help develop social enterprises and charities. He continues to serve on the Board of Directors for the Big Issue.

Nigel Kershaw, chair of The Big Issue, said: “At a time when there is a certain amount of controversy around some appointments to the House of Lords, I believe that John is a Lord we can all applaud.

“It is a testament to his character and vision – and to the changing world we live in – that John becomes probably the first Peer ever appointed on a lifetime of experience which includes being raised as an orphan in a slum, illiteracy, sleeping rough and being jailed as a young offender.

“In spectacularly turning around his own life by becoming a trailblazing social entrepreneur, John has inspired millions with The Big Issue’s mission to provide a hand up to thousands of people too often forgotten by society.”

Bird's appointment was also welcomed on Twitter. David Floyd, founder of Social Spider CIC posted: "Big day for UK #socent as joins the House of Lords."

Since launching The Big Issue magazine has put over £100m directly into the pockets of homeless individuals, sold 200 million copies and has helped thousands of homeless people move themselves away from poverty.


Photo credit: UK Parliament