Clockwise: Street Cat Bob, Big Issue vendor Martin, James Bowen with his new kittens, homelesness in the UK, David Graeber
Not many people will be sad to see the back of 2020. For The Big Issue, the pandemic and ensuing lockdown instantly put a stop to the livelihoods of thousands of vendors who relied on the magazine to make their money. Without people on the streets, that income was snatched away.
Anthropologist and activist David Graeber was a professor at the London School of Economics, a prominent figure in anti-capitalist groups, the originator of Occupy Wall Street’s “We are the 99 per cent” slogan, and a hero to many
His ideas were becoming all the more relevant in the face of the Covid and climate crisis, and that made his death in September at the age 59 all the more difficult to take for his friends and supporters.
A few short weeks earlier he wrote this article for Jarvis Cocker’s guest editorship of The Big Issue magazine, taken from his 2019 book Bullshit Jobs: The Rise of Pointless Work and What We Can Do About It, which pinpoints the inefficiencies of our society which continue to push us to the brink of catastrophe.
Street Cat Bob, in case you weren’t aware, was a rather special cat. The ginger tom rose to fame on the shoulder of James Bowen, a Big Issue vendor who would busk on the streets of London while selling the magazine. The busking led to a book deal, which led to a film, which led to global stardom.
Bob, too, was taken too early in 2020, although his impact was rather different from that of Graeber. He became the furry face of The Big Issue for many readers and a distant friend for sellers who could identify with James’s story and the companionship a pet can bring in the hardest of times. Deputy editor Steven Mackenzie wrote The Big Issue’s tribute to a cat who changed the life of everyone he met.
Given how Bob went from riding on James’s shoulders to carrying the pair around the world with his regal serenity, we could not move on without hearing from the human side of the duo. One would not have reached such prominence without the other, after all.
“Bob became much more than a cat or mere companion to me,” James wrote in Bob’s commemorative issue. “He was my best friend, my soul mate. My brother, almost. Two slightly broken souls, we transformed each other’s lives.”
The Government’s new Universal Credit system of financial help for those in need has been much criticised. Too little comes too late, its opponents argue, and vulnerable people are punished for their conditions instead of supported.
Benefit sanctions — often levied if recipients are believed to not be looking for work — were suspended during lockdown in March, but existing sanctions continued. Reporter Hannah Westwater spoke to Clara, who was docked more than £1,200 after failing to take on a physical supermarket job because of her chronic health issues, leaving her without money to pay bills or buy food and pushing her into poverty.
Helping people who are experiencing homelessness was the founding mission of The Big Issue, giving individuals at their lowest ebb an opportunity to help themselves. But the broader issues of homelessness and housing are blight on society.
Understanding the nature of the problem and raising awareness about the solutions is crucial if we are going to end homelessness once and for all, so this article is regularly updated with the latest figures and programmes from across the country.
There are structural, social issues which create homelessness, most often when people have a string of bad luck and no support network, no one to catch them when they stumble. Fixing those bigger problems is a long, hard fight but there are always ways which individuals can help, even in the smallest way. Liam Geraghty explains what anyone can do to make a difference.
As well as the personal and the structural, there are numerous charities which are making the lives of people living on the streets better, both in the long term and short term. It’s not just about giving someone a coat or a hot drink, but finding housing for them, helping them get skills and work, and making sure they can rebuild their lives on a solid foundation for the future.
Liam Geraghty and Adrian Lobb run through the different charities across the UK who are making a difference to people fighting to overcome homelessness.
Bob may have departed but he left one final Christmas gift: the festive family film A Christmas Gift From Bob. Filmed in December 2019, the movie was but also a painful reminder for James
“I couldn’t be prouder of my little man,” James said, reflecting on the film. “It’s really such a shame that he can’t be here to know how much love he’s receiving for it. He’s always in my heart and soul. And anybody who’s ever appreciated him in any way, there’s a little bit of him in all of those people.”
Steven Mackenzie had an early look at the film which Bobites (yes, Bob has groupies) had been waiting for around the world, paying an early visit to the set during filming. When the trailer finally came out in October, he already had the inside track on the best bits of the movie, so gave the fans exactly what they were looking for.