One-third of Big Issue sellers now Romanian : Job once reser Aug 4, 2013 9:30:39 GMT
Post by Focus on Aug 4, 2013 9:30:39 GMT
Over the past 20 years, they have become a familiar fixture on Britain’s high streets: bedraggled, wrapped up against the elements and far from freshly washed – but often with an engaging line in patter.
Through their determination to work themselves out of poverty, Big Issue sellers have won the hearts of the more fortunate, who happily buy the magazine in the knowledge they are helping those in genuine difficulty.
But over the past year or two, there has been a noticeable change in the appearance of the typical Big Issue seller, with women from the poorer parts of Eastern Europe, in their long skirts and headscarves, increasingly replacing the male, native British homeless people.
Seller : Lina Petrea, top, and Stan Paulica, below, are both from Romania and sell the Big Issue on Britain's streets
The situation was brought into focus last week when Romanian Firuta Vasile, a mother of four who sold the magazine in Bristol, was given the legal right to claim housing benefit on top of the other aid she already receives.
A court ruled that because she paid for the magazines using her own money and sold them at a profit or a loss, she was classed as self-employed. The landmark decision means that she – and other immigrants from Bulgaria and Romania, the nations that are not yet full members of the EU – can claim the housing benefit they were not previously entitled to.
An investigation was launched to determine the full ramifications of this decision, and we have established that almost one in three Big Issue sellers – 700 out of a nationwide force of 2,250 registered vendors according to the magazine – come from Romania.
British Big Issue vendors have also alleged that some Roma ‘gypsies’ organize gangs selling the magazines on a large-scale basis – even turning up to distribution points in luxury cars – and intimidate other sellers on their pitches.
The newly opened benefits loophole has faced widespread condemnation. Particularly vociferous was the founder of The Big Issue, John Bird, who now advises the Government on its Big Society project.
Keen to work: Lucia Karpachi, top, is a mother of four while Monica Mihai, below, says she is in a hostel
Vowing that the organisation would root out sellers who were not genuinely in need, he said: ‘We did not start The Big Issue as a means for people to top up benefits. I am not going to stand by and watch this organisation have a namby-pamby attitude to the poor. It would be like throwing away the last 20 years. If we find anyone going near the benefits system, we will expose them. It is appalling.’
There are a range of nationalities selling The Big Issue – including Eastern Europeans from Hungary, Latvia and Lithuania – but Mr Bird said the Romanians presented a particular challenge.
He said: ‘In the past Jews and Indians were given the opportunity to come here and work their way out of poverty – and they did.
‘But we can’t even get Romanian groups in the UK to work with the Roma people. We ring them up and say, “Look, we’re working with a lot of Romanians now. Can you help?”
‘They tell us, “These people aren’t Romanians. They’re gypsies.” That’s the real problem – no one wants to know them.’
Reporters last week spoke to Big Issue sellers in several British cities. In Glasgow, five of the seven vendors we found were Romanian.
The sole British seller claimed that luxury cars arrived at the city’s distribution depot at 6 am each Monday to pick up copies.
The man, who did not want to be named, said: ‘Large, flash cars, like Mercedes and BMWs, pull up and load up in bulk with the magazines before driving off to have them distributed.
‘What are people driving cars like that doing buying loads of copies of The Big Issue to sell on?
‘There are too many copies for one or two people to sell, so they must have a gang working for them. And they’re doing it because there’s lots of money in it for them. It’s organised crime. People who are clearly wealthy enough to drive cars like that have no business getting involved in selling The Big Issue.
Happy : Firuta Vasile, 27, a Big Issue seller from Romania, selling the magazine on the streets of Keynsham in Bristol
‘There are hardly any Brits now and that’s because we are being muscled out. The intimidation can be terrible sometimes but you just have to stand up to them. I know of one guy who got beaten up. It’s a scandal.’
In Nottingham, a British vendor claimed that a third of all the pitches used by Big Issue vendors were occupied by Romanians, often in outlying areas of the city or in other East Midlands towns such as Derby, Loughborough and Leicester. They also travel to small towns on the days when there are street markets.
He said: ‘They have a greater ability to travel. They are being driven around.There are men driving the cars but it is the women who do the selling. They drop them off near where their pitch is. Some of them seem to operate like a team in that they will buy 100 copies and then go off and distribute them to the women to sell.’
Another British seller, James, 37, also complained that Romanians had more money to purchase the magazines in bulk. ‘I go down there with my few pounds to buy what I can and they arrive with rolls of notes,’ he said. Outside Nottingham’s Broadmarsh shopping centre, Florina Novice, 26, said she and her family had come to Britain in 2008 from Arad in Western Romania.
‘The job I had in a shoe factory in Romania paid only £100 per month,’ she said. ‘We thought Britain would be better.’
The mother of three, whose husband is a painter and decorator, said she had been selling The Big Issue for two years and was able to claim benefits for her children.
She worked from 10 am to 3 pm each weekday, between doing the school run, typically selling four or five copies. Buying them at £1.25 and selling them for £2.50 means this is hardly a lucrative day’s work in itself – until the benefits it potentially unlocks are considered.
On the day our reporter visited Nottingham two of the seven vendors selling the magazine were Romanian.
The other, Lucia Karpachi, 31, told us in rudimentary English that she had four children aged 15, 13, ten and six and a husband who was back in Romania. She said she got no benefits and would normally sell only two or three copies a day.
In Manchester, a Romanian Big Issue seller called Eleanor said she came to Britain three years ago with her four daughters. Speaking in broken English at her pitch outside a Co-op supermarket, she was reluctant to discuss benefits. But she made clear she was ‘very happy’ with her job and had ‘a nice house’. Another Romanian vendor in Manchester, Stan Paulica, 34, said he had arrived in England two years ago. He said The Big Issue earned him enough to rent a property and his wife Romana and daughters have now joined him.
In Sheffield, British vendor Clive Davies said a Roma man ran several prime city-centre pitches with his wife and daughter. Mr Davies said: ‘I just wonder why he needs to sell The Big Issue. He’s got a house in the city centre and he drives a Mercedes. It’s not like he’s really in trouble.’
In London, none of the Romanian sellers in Camden Town, Islington, Kentish Town and Victoria station would admit to claiming benefits.
In Camden, Monica Mihai, 22, said: ‘I live in a hostel in Walthamstow with my husband and two children. He also sells the Big Issue. Today I have sold three copies – that means I make £3.75. Every morning I go to Vauxhall to pick them up. I come here at 9 am. Lots of people smile and say hello but nobody buys. It’s hard but I won’t beg.’
And Islington Big Issue vendor Lina Petrea, who lives with seven other Romanians, five of whom sell the magazine, said: ‘By selling Big Issue, I get a National Insurance registration as self-employed. When you don’t speak good in your language, all you can do is sell The Big Issue.’
In Bristol, where 27-year-old Miss Vasile won her landmark case, there was no sign of the usual half-dozen Roma regulars. One British seller told us: ‘They’re lying low until the publicity dies down.’
Miss Vasile had already managed to obtain £25,500 a year in benefits, but she took the city council to a tribunal last year after it refused to pay her housing benefit. Her victory, upheld last week by a senior tribunal in London, will now give her at least £2,600 in additional payments each year.
Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, said use of The Big Issue to obtain self-employed status had revealed a ‘totally unacceptable loophole’ which he was attempting to close.
Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions
He said: ‘The British people will understandably wonder how on earth it can be fair for people to come here with no job, but enjoy the right to access our benefits system.’
Conservative MP David Davies said: ‘The Big Issue was set up to help the homeless, not as a racket to allow people to migrate over here so they can play on people’s generosity and claim benefits. This is going to undermine trust in the magazine among the public who want to help those in genuine need.’
But Fay Selvan, chief executive of The Big Issue In The North, said: ‘They have a legal right to be in this country and a legal right to sell The Big Issue. No one is being denied a pitch.’
Fay Selvan, chief executive of The Big Issue In The North
Founded in 1991, the magazine is written by professional journalists and sells about 120,000 copies a week. Although originally set up to help the homeless, last year it broadened its criteria for vendors to include those facing financial crisis.
A spokeswoman said: ‘Over the past 20 years the nature of homelessness has changed – there are far fewer rough sleepers.’
Immigrants have even muscled in on our homeless!! - Anyone else get the distinct feeling that Britain is being overtaken and overrun with these leeches and that the government just don't give a flyin fck?? - Fx