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Helen Razer tells why she has resigned from The Big Issue

It’s fairly late as I write these words. It has to be. I would not perform this act of professional self-harm if anyone I liked intimately enough to dissuade me was actually awake.

Last week, a periodical with which I’ve had a long and regular association celebrated a milestone. Happy 20th Birthday, The Big Issue. Happy Birthday and goodbye.

For 14 of the 20 years The Big Issue (TBI) has been sold by vendors nationwide, I’ve not only been happy but actually chuffed to write a column. Lately, though, things have changed. (But, please, still buy the publication.)

TBI, which took its cue from a not-for-profit publishing model in the UK, was a good small idea. Media workers put together a magazine of creditable quality. Low-income earners sold it and retained half the cover price for themselves. It was, to use the modern phrase, a double dividend. Good publication with a decent income outcome.

If you buy the publication—and please, continue to do so—you may know that its vendors are often people who have endured life on the margins. In the many features currently celebrating TBI’s birthday, you’ll see these vendors described as disabled or homeless or, in one atrocious turn, as people who have made “bad choices”. Of course, the only “bad choice” they made was to be born into a society that demands the economic and social marginalisation of some of its citizens. It’s just like my Uncle Karl always says, “Relative surplus-population is the pivot upon which the law of demand and supply of labour works”. It is our present society that produces poverty and exclusion. Not disability and certainly not “bad choices”.

As I am both garrulous and nosy, I speak at length with a TBI vendor once a fortnight. Theirs are often stories of hardship so extreme, to employ an old Australian phrase, You Wouldn’t Read About It. Well, you will read about it in TBI, where a vendor’s life is briefly narrated every issue. And, you would hear about it at the TBI office where editorial staff host a breakfast to describe the contents of every new issue to vendors, some of whom have been failed so badly by our munted nation, they never acquired the skill of reading. Illiteracy is not a choice.

There would be no The Big Issue, no The Big Issue board, without the vendors.

Even if we don’t know the individual stories of our local vendor and even if we don’t buy TBI (you bastards! Buy it! Seriously. Then, keep buying it) we know what their fluoro vests imply. These people are doing it tough. These people are those to whom a small financial exchange will be quite meaningful. These people are the publication’s raison d’être.

There would be no TBI, and no TBI board, without the vendors. While Alan Atwood, veteran newspaper guy and recently departed editor, and his genuinely lovely team have produced a fab mag in which I’m proud to see my by-line, the magazine is just not one-tenth as important as the people who sell it. And I’m not being some kind of “let’s celebrate the deserving poor! We are nothing without them!” Mother Teresa twat here. I’m just stating the obvious. None of you buys TBI because you give much of a crap for what Helen Razer has to say about her failed dinnertime experiments. You buy it because your exchange permits you to interact with someone you would not likely otherwise know in a mutual spirit of dignity.

Look. I don’t think the model is perfect. If I had my way, we’d solve the problem of hunger by marinating the bodies of the ruling class then serving them to the unjustly marginalised. But, as far as charitable exchanges go, this isn’t a bad one. I have always loathed the tagline “helping people help themselves” and I believe that if you teach a man to fish, you’re quite likely to keep him in some sort of angling servitude until he is dead and you have built your fortune on his body.

But, back in the real world outside the dream of communism: vendors tell me, and they tell the editorial staff, that the pocket money is okay and the sale activity is often a little better than playing bingo in church halls. In other words, I have never thought TBI provides an answer to poverty and exclusion. I just think it’s a quite good small measure, like a soup kitchen whose patrons are permitted to keep the ladle.

Which is not to diminish the value of the vendors, which is immense to TBI.

They are the reason we make the magazine. They are the reason the board exists. They are the “brand”—an extraordinarily visual one, too. While, as I have said, the magazine is of good quality, it is of good quality chiefly due to the vendors. No one on the editorial staff has wanted to let them down by producing a piece of rot. We make something that is, somehow, copy edited and subbed and nicely designed so that the vendors can feel that every sale is justified. Thanks to Alan, and good, bright people on the editorial staff like Melissa Cranenburgh and Lorraine Pink, the magazine doesn’t read like a charity pamphlet.

So. TBI builds its hi-vis visibility on the hard work of vendors. Their hours in the street produce the magazine and the board that governs it. All of it. And, to be gracelessly honest, it also produces some much-needed income for me. As journalism revenues are in the toilet, I have been pretty grateful for the wage; enough to meet my utility bills every month. And I tell you this less because I’m interested in kvetching (obviously and historically, I’m quite generally interested in that) and more because I want to underscore that my decision to leave TBI is not taken lightly.

As a self-ladling soup-kitchen kind of deal, TBI was just dandy. But, what I suspect it has become is something else—something “more” as I imagine its executive would have it. What was once an organisation that had a small group of vendors as its sole focus now has its eye on bigger and more imaginary things.

To look at the media and corporate presence of TBI board, it seems they think “business solutions” can change the world. And, I can’t be down with that. Probably, no one who saw The Big Short or ever spent five minutes listening to Yanis Varoufakis can be down with it, either.

I should say that this piece of writing and the “I quit” to which it is appended is entirely authored by me. I am writing only about my suspicions, which peaked at an unseemly hour. I certainly want to make plain that no member of staff has prompted the sleep-deprived view which I here describe.

They’re cautious people at TBI; an editorial team committed to its vendors will never say an incendiary thing about the item that’s for sale. (And, again, please buy the magazine.) When I called Alan to see why he had resigned as editor, he said nothing. When I called Melissa the associate editor, she said nothing. When I called editorial assistant Lorraine to see if she would say why they had said nothing, she said nothing. But, I reasoned, resignations in themselves must say a little more than nothing. And I had already suspected that something was being said when the board unleashed its curious “buy a magazine from a CEO!” promotion.

Shit, I thought, when I saw this Rich Man Poor Man promotion. What the eff was that to put a captain of industry with a servant of poverty for the purposes of marketing? Who in their right noggin thought that pairing a vendor, maybe a guy with no legs and certainly no assets, with a preposterously rich person was a meaningful branding statement, much less an affirming thing for a low-income earner? To a vendor, I imagine this exercise was demeaning. To a successful capitalist, I imagine it was a great personal comfort. Look at me. Standing so close to the actual poor.

Who wants to meet, much less spend an entire day with, a CEO or a politician?

For its 20th birthday last Friday, TBI reprised this idea in only a slightly less shitty way by pairing vendors with politicians. You know, the policy class that has made Australian housing and rental prices some of the world’s least affordable. (This is not just me and my Marxist arse talking, it’s something the Grattan Institute and others have been exploring for years. FFS, the ALP has built most of its election platform on the matter.)

I mean, I do understand that celebrities are a good way to mark an occasion, but who wants to meet, much less spend an entire day with, a CEO or a politician? Get that pretty whatsername from The Project to do it or one of those man-toys from Home and Away. Or Delta. I don’t know. Someone. Just not capitalists and policy makers, the people directly responsible for poverty.

We could put this all down to bad taste. Until we look at the things that Steve Persson, TBI’s CEO has publicly said. I read them and I begin to suspect that he and I do not concur about the most productive ways to “help people help themselves”.

Persson is reported in the previously linked SMH piece as relaying how he, “learned of the dangers of relying too heavily on government funding”. It appears to me (appears. I haven’t slept and I was reading Capital all weekend to prepare for an upcoming argument with Guy Rundle) that he believes this case holds as much for some impoverished individuals as it does for those organisations that help-people-help-themselves. Although, this didn’t stop TBI’s board accepting monies from both State and Federal government to kick-start a social housing project, Homes for Homes, which uses a model devised by Lennar Corporation, a US Fortune 500 property developer. One, by the by, that received a bailout after the subprime crisis. (Some companies really rely too heavily on government funding.)

Lennar, which has a web directory that details its philanthropic work, does not make mention of this scheme, favourably described in the Australian Financial Review as a promising business solution to the problem of the poor. So, I can’t be sure if the scheme, which seeks in time to derive its funding to build affordable houses from a tax deductible 0.1% donation from sales of property, was ever rolled out by Lennar or ever produced a single low-cost home.

It is possible that it did. It’s certain TBI board means very well in adopting this scheme. I mean, I’m a bit surprised that they insist via their website that our housing affordability crisis is due to a “severe lack of funding for new housing projects”. Anyone who has read one of the recent raft of articles on the impact of negative gearing and the capital gains tax concession might question that statement. Anyone who is not in the finance services sector—the place in which approximately half of TBI’s board are employed—and has a stagnant wage in an accelerated housing market might question that statement. I’m also sceptical that donors could ever be so significant in number that TBI will generate anything close to the $1.8B that “could” be raised—even if it is, the website estimates that “>35%” of these funds will be used to build homes in seven to ten years that, in my reading, won’t be owned by the low-income earners for whom they will be built.

And, just to get nit-picky about it, offering another tax concession to people buying and selling property may have the result of swelling the housing market. Even Malcolm Turnbull agrees that the housing market is so “healthy” (I prefer “unaffordable”) because of tax concessions he refuses to repeal. So, in short, the sincerity of TBI’s board and their Rich List partners doesn’t matter one jot if they haven’t thought this whole housing affordability thing through. The road to hell is paved with corporate governance.

I can’t convince anyone that the charitable Gates or Zuckerberg or Cook should be paying their company taxes instead of “making the world a better place”.

The TBI’s board of directors has begun to embark on projects other than the magazine itself and most of these don’t give me too much of the irrits, even if they do seem to use the word “journey” a lot and take their inspiration from The All Time Worst Hits of Gesture Politics. The Homes for Homes thing, though, seems like one of those under-theorised gifts of good vibes that finance sector people like to give themselves.

Of course, the belief that successful business practice is just the same thing as good social policy is very widespread. I can’t stop a soul believing this neoliberal philanthropic bosh. I can’t convince anyone that the charitable Gates or Zuckerberg or Cook should be paying their company taxes instead of “making the world a better place”, and claiming further tax deductions for same. I can’t change the minds of the many who think that social policy is not the work of democratically elected persons, but the “disruptors” of Silicon Valley and Wall Street.

What I can do, and what I feel I must do, is end my association with an organisation that has shifted its focus from vendors (who are not represented on TBI’s board) and their magazine (whose editorial staff are not represented on TBI’s board) to some sort of conciliatory “temporary homes for the deserving poor” flapdoodle.”

To be honest, this may be a bit of a pre-emptive strike. At some point or another, TBI’s board was bound to read my column and realise I’m a raving loony communist. That I am often sacked for writing things like “fuck your bromides, running dog!” notwithstanding, I don’t feel that I can offer my labour to a board that presumes to speak for or apply proxy policy to low-income earners. Especially one that uses the branding those low-income earners so powerfully provide to justify its Business Knows Best do-gooding—all of their schemes mention the great success of the magazine. This, again, I am certain is a strategy in which they wholeheartedly believe. Doesn’t make it right.

I understand that for-profit organisations must resort to ultra-MBA platitudes and practices to appease shareholders. But, TBI operates outside of that sphere. The not-for-profit organisation has no material rationale for behaving like someone who just watched Tony Robbins do a TED talk.

Again and again and again: buy the magazine for the sake of the vendors. But, I can’t write for a magazine managed by a board that “rewards” those vendors, as per a recent press release, “with new fluoro Big Issue vests as part of the celebrations, thanks to a new partnership with Bank Australia

Well, pardon me as I deliver a boot to my human face branded with a Westpac logo. Forever.

The vendors ARE The Big Issue. They deserve more than a branded vest from the finance sector and divided attention.

Look. I don’t know the board. They might be lovely. I am positive that they mean well and have watched many inspiring talks about lifting people out of poverty with the Power of Yes, or whatever. But. FFS.

The vendors ARE The Big Issue. They deserve more than a branded vest from the finance sector and divided attention. There would be no organisation without them. None. They are far more important to the magazine, and the brand it has built for its board, than I am. My departure will not make a dent in circulation—and, again, please keep buying the magazine. But, if the vendors disappear, then so will the entire organisation. But, they won’t. Because a world that is driven by the beliefs most starkly expressed by the finance sector will just keep on producing low-income earners, some of whom will sell TBI. Who unwittingly legitimse the practice of its
managing board.

The board seems, in my reading of recent promotional and philanthropic events, to use these hard-working people to validate its own philanthropic playgroup. The board won’t see it this way, of course. I urge them in any case to reconsider a return to and an expansion of their soup ladle approach. Give the vendors, who have given you so much, more. Maybe teach those vendors who cannot read to do so, for example. Do what you’ve done well for twenty years better. Don’t arse about with a feel-good housing scheme that a first year economics student could tear apart by lecture two.

The vendors are out, very literally, on the streets earning little for themselves but providing compassionate capital to a group largely comprised of investment professionals. This cheeses me to the point of a public hissyfit.

Look. All my Marxist arsery aside, it just feels ethically wrong to take a small wage which is only made possible by the existence of vendors whose poverty has become the imprimatur of the corporate good. When it was just, “Helen, will you write some of your nonsense to lighten up the mag”, I was really chuffed to provide. Now I feel inveigled into some profoundly antisocial business delusion. So, I’ve left.

For what little it is worth, this rips me up a bit. At 14 years, this is by far the longest gig I’ve ever had, and it feels today a bit like a divorce. I’ve been drunk with one of the editors, yelled at John Howard with another and have enjoyed point sandwiches with Alan. I’ve spoken with dozens of vendors and had my headshot critiqued by at least seven of them and enjoyed that brief moment where we were just two guys working for the same boss. I have written hundreds of TBI columns about everyday things and I only missed one issue ever, which happened at the time of my actual divorce. Before that, back in 2008, I had the worst run of my effing life. Everything turned very quickly to crap. Not one of my employers was one-jillionth as sweet as the editorial team at TBI when they learned of it. “We are proud to publish you,” they said in a note, and I cried the only liberating tears I did that vile year.

I am so sad we live in a time where the false idea of the nurturing free market is so pervasive, it even compromises not-for-profits.

Although I am an actual arsehole, I am really not in the habit of disclosing private professional matters. And, man, I could tell you some stories. But this one feels at once so very personal and so political, that I felt the need to tell it. I am sad for my pussy self, of course. There are not many constants in the life of a freelancer and I thought TBI could be the exception. But, I am so, so sad that we live in a time—even after the effing GFC—where the false idea of the nurturing free market is so pervasive, it even compromises not-for-profits. Such places surely have no business with business.

Happy Birthday, TBI. Happy Birthday and goodbye. I’ve adored you, even though I’d prefer to live in a society that had no need of you. I leave you, because your board of compassionate capitalists are currently taking this trickle-down trip. If they ever set aside the Hayek and maybe even read some Yanis—it doesn’t even have to be Marx—we can tango again. Until then, I can only buy the publication. I just can’t write for it.

Featured image: Peter Garrett selling TBI as a celebrity seller in 2015. Source: The Big Issue Australia Facebook

91 responses to “Helen Razer tells why she has resigned from The Big Issue

  1. Helen, you may remember that we met at Guinganna years ago over a bean sprout.

    I am chasing a satirical interview you did with Trump ( at least I think it was you – please forgive me if it wasn’t ) – hysterically funny I thought it was. Am desperate to get a copy and act it out to friends – much better than Alec Baldwin. Can you help me ?

    If you are ever in Sydney with a moment to spare, let’s have a coffee ? Hilary

  2. Good on you Helen. I became disillusioned with TBI (still buy it) after I learned my partner’s uncle is now a seller, even though he works a decent job full-time. Does TBI know? You betcha. Know what they said? “Who cares, he sells a lot of magazines”. Absolutely disgusting.

  3. Couldn’t agree more with this. After reading a questionable editorial damning beggars in TBI last August, I felt pretty damned angry (especially as a CBD resident at that time – we saw the faces of the homeless every day, they were our neighbours) and wrote a blog post on related issues from the consumer’s side of things I guess https://soiradippidy.wordpress.com/2015/08/30/the-real-big-issue-and-how-the-big-issue-seems-to-have-missed-it/
    It’s really nice to see people who work or have worked within the publication also questioning certain aspects. And totally agree too, we have to keep buying this important publication despite these things. Good on you Helen Razer!

  4. Echoing Richard’s comments above about Bank Australia: where do you keep your money Helen? I’ve been with Bank Australia for 29 years now, since they were just called SIROcredit (the CSIRO Credit Union). While they have grown and re-branded since then, they are still mutually owned by their customers, and are involved in various community and environmental causes, and therefore a great deal more ethical than the Westpacs of the world, so your slur is beside the point and unworthy. Do your homework before you sling it around.

    1. I “keep” my money in a bank. Or, rather, I would do if I had any of it. I have no choice but to let my middle income rest briefly in a bank, just like everybody else.
      Your charge that I am a hypocrite for doing something that is compulsory is logically flawed. Along with those others who have basically said “Why don’t you just go and marry Stalin, then?” you make the claim that I am wrong to criticise an especially unnerving capitalist practice, because I live in a capitalist system. This is a bit like saying I have no right to criticise sexism because I life in a sexist society. I didn’t choose this system. I was not consulted. Nor were you.
      If you think it’s fine for TBI to run a line of public thought and internal practice that holds that private enterprise can help “the poor”, that’s fine. Make that argument. But to say that I am a hypocrite with no right to criticise capitalist practice because I live in a capitalist society makes no sense. Make an argument and don’t be a silly. Or not. Be a silly. But don’t expect anyone to take you seriously.

      1. I don’t see Simon calling you a hypocrite at any point in his comment. Looks like he rightfully pointed out that you wrote about the big issue forging relationships with big corporates such as Westpac, when actually the Bank Australia connection (fact) makes much more sense as a mutual partnership, and shows your response to Simon as a personal dig and a little immature.

  5. Oh I don’t know, maybe the rise in profile by celebs co-selling for a while, and this article for that matter will mean many more sales for TBI in the longer term.

    1. Celebrities weren’t selling. Politicians and CEOs. And more issues sold is good, as I repeatedly say. But this is not the point.

  6. Who elects this board?? Surely the shareholders or supporters or … whoever? that set up the magazine ( great magazine in my opinion ) in the first place must have some way of redirecting the focus of the organisation to something with some hope of assisting the vendors. It seems to me like the board may have lost its way. Well done Helen for bringing this to public attention.

  7. Helen, I love you. Lots of words but I finally understand…took a while to read it.
    I do buy TBI…but I’m gonna buy it a whole lot more now. Thankyou for your articles. X

  8. Well done and extremely well said. I will continue to buy THE BIG ISSUE. Take care and best of luck from a consumer advocate.

  9. Fair enough, I admire your principle. There’s something just as bad about an over-rewarded, superannuated, gold pass holding (or equivalent) ex captains pick celebrity politician like Peter Garrett handing out TBI’s as their is if it were Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerburg.

    This guy, and others like him, are costing us a motza by the standard of ‘normal’ Australians.

    Liked him, and his band, in the Crystal Ballroom in the 70’s but not so much handing out TBI’s.

    1. And, God help us, he’s about to revive his musical career and inflict a solo album on us all. Is there no end to our suffering?

  10. So rare to see a thoughtful analysis of neo-liberalist charity; even rarer too read someone brave enough to admit to being a marxist in these evil times of identity politics. Like you i despair at the development of “social consciences” by some of the most vile robber barons the world has ever witnessed, even while they avoid taxes, rip the fuck off working class people, and redistribute wealth to themselves in a way that would make even the Rockefellers feel shamed. Good on ya Helen, and have a squiz at this piece: http://www.standard.co.uk/comment/comment/ed-west-why-rapacious-capitalists-love-to-appear-lefty-a3101006.html

  11. I usually tell people I like ‘don’t read the comments!’ but I am glad Helen did because it made for fucking brilliant reading. Love and respect.

  12. Great article Helen.
    Just one comment on the underlying economic and political theory of negative gearing. As a capitalist free-marketeer (within the confines of a compassionate welfare state), I do not accept NG as a policy. Free marketeers want minimal government interference in markets (whatever they are, including housing). Therefore, NG has a huge distorting effect on supply and demand and provides government assistance to property investors. That’s not free market capitalism, that’s crony capitalism (it’s evil twin). It’s the latter that has become far too common in Western democracies heralding the rise of demagogues like Trump. The Big End of town is happily accepting tax-payer subsidies in order to speculate on property. That’s not capitalism, that’s undeserved welfare receipt.

    1. Thanks, Sam. I note there are actually a few clear-headed liberal economy types around who see the hypocrisy of welfare. We might not agree on other matters, but we certainly see how austerity measures are rarely applied to the well-to-do and that business bailouts are socialist acts.
      If you’re going to Let the Market Decide, let it decide, then.

      1. Absolutely. The GFC taught us that big business likes to privatise profit and nationalise debt. Bailouts of big institutions was nationalisation in all but name. The (enduring) problem is that these institutions are too big to fail, know it, and can act recklessly (huge residential mortgages on the books anyone?) knowing that the public purse will smooth over the next inevitable fuck up.

  13. Wow. These are the most entertaining (read: belly laugh inducing) and inspiring reactions/responses to an article I have had the good fortune to read in many a day. Whoops! A long winded sentence. To all those strange people that find it necessary to instruct the author to be more concise, take a flying fuck at a rolling donut! For mine, Helen is a goddam National Treasure. The number of journalists remaining that have the old-fashioned ‘courage of conviction’, let alone the skill and intellectual capacity to express their true feelings and opinions so eloquently must be down to double digits by now. Mi mensaje de apoyo y admiración Helen, Walk in Beauty.

  14. While most of this rant seems fair. The bit about the fluro vest has another angle: would be wise to consider TBI’s relationship with the ‘finance sector’ by choosing Bank Australia to provide the vendor’s uniforms. Bank Australia are a recently formed bank that has ethical values (google them!) they are customer owned, and has trusts in place for environmental conservation and social impact causes. Hardly Westpac. And another thing to consider is that TBI have probably looked at declining magazine sales, globally not just here in Aus, and reacted by creating other social enterprises such as Homes 2 Homes to diversify their services with innovation. The good intentions of the aforementioned Homes 2 Homes is probably still a work in progress, so it’s a bit harsh to be judging its success just yet. One last part of my own counter-rant, is for readers to consider that if not-for-profits are kept separate from the finance sector, then isn’t that encouraging an even bigger gap in equality by nurturing a Them vs Us society? Surely a mutual path forward is better than battling against polar opposite views and as a result our poorer citizens are left even further behind. TBI could have continued with just the magazine, but could also have easily folded (no pun intended) with rather grim consequences for the vendors. Always two sides to every story

  15. Helen, Yes, like another of your commenters below I love your sardonic rants. But this was a truly stunning piece. Combining challenging social commentary and astute business, taxation and political critique with powerful personal experience. I read every word and was moved by every word. As long as you are around there is still a tiny bit of hope for us all. Thank you.

  16. Sounds like there has been an exodus of journalists ad editors due to the new board’s focus. Sad to hear that, perhaps the new board will get new journalists with more stories on Johnny Depp and Amber Heard’s divorce, and how to diet better. I won’t be buying the Big Issue for that shite, for me, as long as the stories are interesting, I do not care who wrote it (having said that its Helen Razer’s articles that drive me to this website)…
    Down with Marxism btw, and politicians are an easy target of wrath but not a smart one. They do a brave job that my ego could not handle whatever stripes they are wearing.

  17. Here here Helen. Your piece has echoed exactly why I am leaving the non profit sector after 20 years. I have seen a shift from a grassroots led sector responding to the needs of people to a organisational driven model, This organisational model finds funding where ever it can, creates consortiums and partnerships in order to grow all the while diluting and compromising the services it delivers. If I hear one more senior manager say we have to grow in order to survive I will go mad. No you don’t need to grow to survive you need to adapt and be proactive and be smart. If you can’t do that get out of the sector and let others do the job.

  18. Though I agree with your sentiments when you suggest ‘ marinating the bodies of the ruling class then serving them to the unjustly marginalised’, I would suggest that actually marinating them one by one and serving them to their fellow class-mates to consume would be a healthier option for the rest of us and the planet!

  19. helen just so you know for starters a particular person wont say something as they are still there but in a different role but i say thank you for the chats and the laughs and if you want to help remember you will remember you will catch me bees with honey rather than vinegar.

  20. Too often have I felt the conflict. The cause/group is worthy but I have major issues with the other ppl involved in organising it. I try to stay as long as I can but eventually have to run for my own sanity, and just hope that the ppl I have no faith in can give the cause the success it deserves. It happens often enough I wonder if I am the issue. Too idealist and not willing to see the pragmatic ways of the world. Keep up the fight Helen and keep supporting the vendors.

  21. I think Helen is a very talented writer and I admire and envy that. I must confess that I scanned the article to find the main points but didn’t read in full (you know, time poor). Just my opinion that if an effort or a dollar is expended and that has the effect of helping someone in need, it doesn’t matter to me that it was not motivated totally by altruism. What matters is that some good is done. Giving money to an excellent charity like YOTS helps people who need it and I feel better about myself.

  22. Hells Bells!! You speak truth & you rock! Eff the board & the bloody haters comments. Love your work, thanks for everything. I work in the community NFP sector & feel your pain.

  23. Brilliant post. Yes continue to buy the big issue because it is the vendors who are important. I have always admired your writings, Helen, and your view of the world going back to Triple J even. The ” false idea of the nurturing free market ” is an elegant phrase which if widely understood would give people pause before plumping for “Jobs and growth’. We saw the free market in operation on a recent Q&I program when a business representative in an Armani suit and an Italian silk tie gave some “strong advice’ to an audience member dressed in his best hoodie. There is no such thing as trickle down economics,only piss down. I shall continue to buy the Big Issue but will miss your contributions. Hopefully I will read them elsewhere. Jimr

  24. Your comment “the false idea of the nurturing free market is so pervasive, it even compromises not-for-profits” is something I fear greatly as my family moves into the new NDIS world. The disconnect between people’s lives and the organisations that “service” them seems to be growing exponentially. Sad that you won’t be in TBI anymore but brave ethical step you have taken. Thankfully you already have a new job – keeping us up to speed with what the board is up to (probably not much pay in it though)
    Best wishes

  25. I buy the magazine and enjoy reading Helen’s opinions and witty sprays. Personally, as a director of a not-for-profit INC association for the past 15 years currently transitioning into a not-for-profit LTD. structure, there’s a lot to be said for board members able and willing to bring to the table corporate players and the resources and attention that can flow from those relationships. Who that attention benefits and how that money gets spent is another story. Our organisation has survived and grown without receiving any government assistance. We now find ourselves in the position of needing to attract a board very similar to the one currently guiding TBI.

  26. Good for you Helen; you’ve taken a principled stand.
    Aside from this Big Issue could I make a general suggestion about another big issue? Reduce the length of your columns by at least half. They are far too long. You can make your point more effectively with fewer words.

    1. Elly. Usually, my DR columns don’t exceed a thousand words. I understand that people have a lot to read and prefer that length.
      While I appreciate you have time commitments and would have enjoyed a more condensed read, I ask you to appreciate that any writer or publication also must balance their own time and responsibilities.
      First, some things can’t intrinsically be short. If I want to make a point about the trend to corporate governance of not-for-profits, which I think is something a lot of people are interested to read, and I want to do that in a way that has a personal narrative element, which is definitely something that people like to read, and takes a look at the way this has factually played out in a particular institution and provides some broader economic context, this is going to take a while. I knew that this was long (believe it or not, I cut 1000 words) but I also thought it needed to be.
      Second, producing short work about complex matters takes time . I would love to be able to compress my thoughts into the bite-size chunks the market prefers and I know in this case I could have cut some words. But, I didn’t have the time.
      Third, I know DR has good “time spent” figures. Which is to say, the publication, edited by a pair of professionals who mustn’t have any actual time outside of work, has built an audience that is prepared to spend more time reading. Here, I know I can push it a bit because we have a readership that wants to be pushed. I try not to take advantage of our readers’ intellectual rigour and patience. I, as mentioned, try to balance the drivers, or whatever those business people call those things, aforementioned.
      Finally, I guess there was probably a psychological element for me than produced so many words. I was very sad and felt hesitant when writing about a publication I respect. I felt that I needed to say repeatedly that people should still buy it. And I felt that I needed to make some other things really clear, too, with recourse to repetition. People read things quickly and are wont to misinterpret them. And I felt very strongly that I didn’t want anyone to misinterpret the value of The Big Issue. One way to make people read things slowly and to avoid such misinterpretation is to throw a lot of words at them. And, repeat some of your claims. The last thing I want is to demonise individuals or to dissuade anyone from purchasing the publication. It’s a sensitive sort of thing to say and I wanted it to provide an airbag.
      I understand your needs and preferences and I am sorry I couldn’t address them on this occasion. There was just some other stuff going on. Thanks for saying :make it shorter” nicely, though. Unlike others.

      1. I thought it was the perfect length; interesting enough to come back to when I had time to finish it. These were hard things to say, no doubt, said well. Thanks for unpacking it for us with the care you did.

  27. I’m very sorry TBI has apparently come to this and that there is such a disconnect between vendors and board. When I read of the CEO promotion I had to stop and go for a short walk. It’s an outrage. This kind of bullshit neoliberal thinking will ultimately destroy the fabric of our society. As an ex-journo, who for years eked a negligible income writing for a local queer newspaper, I also respect how difficult it can be to take a principled stand when one is already living on the margins. You had a great innings with TBI, Helen. Sounds like it’s time to call it quits.

  28. OK, Helen, come the revolution those evil running dogs on the board will be first against the wall. Until then (and clearly it is just around the corner), how is your undergraduate, pseudo-political diatribe going to help the vendors? Not much. At least it gave you some copy for today’s Daily Review. From where I sit, you and the board seem to be motivated by the same things, but now they’re doing more to help than you.

    1. I am never sure how “undergraduate” has come to be an insult. I mean, obviously, it would be better to have a postgraduate perspective, but, damn, those things are hard to get. And then, these perspectives are really hard to deliver by the people who have them, who are habituated to forming very big and complex sentences understood largely by other postgraduates.
      I guess you’re going to have to endure life in a world where”undergraduate” writers keep trying to interpret postgraduate perspectives for people who may have access to neither.
      Everything else you said is straight from Trump University. Which never had graduates of any kind.

  29. I’m normally a huge fan of you Helen but this has all the hallmarks of a drunken rant. I still struggle to find the actual point of your article. If your future work is going to be of this standard, please summarise it in the first paragraph so that I can stop reading and get back to work.

  30. Well Helen, I have been away for some time except for last week. But I would rather you post your differences with the dry wit I remember you for. That sarcasm that only you could wrench out of the narrative to give meaning in an atmosphere of cynical literature. Fuck the serious side. I prefer the belly laughs of subtle criticism that made me remember the articles you kept me waiting for TDR ev very week. For sure be political but make me laugh with words and meaning and I am yours albeit ion following. No laughter here. Just a slightly narcissistic self indulgent clip at management transition. Would have got me further on board with that delicious melding of words that developed in riotous comment.

  31. Your principled departure ( God i think you may hate that too! ) highlights how even within the golden gates of altruistic endeavor, hierarchy is hiding around the corner , As you say repeatedly along with ” but continue to buy TBI” it would not exist without the vendors. I always buy from the Lady outside of Wynard station and the Gentleman Expert on Sydney History who sells outside of Coles on George Street. I had first hand experience of this ghastly “business process re-engineering” (BPR ) at a well known charitable organisation. The top heavy patriarchy helped it along nicely .
    Well done Helen! ( another reason for you to be suspicious of my sentiments ) you have resigned and taught us all a thing or three about how these things work in a capitilist soceity.

  32. TBI does one thing and does it reasonably well. To the Board of TBI ,if you think that this other idea is a good one, then form your own bloody foundation, rather than leaching off the good will of the TBI vendors and editorial staff. The risk is that this other idea will result in TBI being deemed “ineffective and expensive to maintain” and therefore needing to be closed down. One of the many benefits that TBI vendors get is the opportunity to interact with people who may not think about the homeless or disabled unless it is shoved in their face. In this way people see that you are an interesting and intelligent human even if you do have a disability. It humanises people who may be discounted as vagrants and troublemakers for those in the middle and upper classes who may interact with them.

  33. It’s sad that the financial boffins seek to siphon off the social capital for a little shameless self-promotion. Stick to your principles and keep using compassion as a guidance system, Helen Razer. I’ll miss your rants in TBI but hey, you’ll still be around. Luck with the Rundle argument.

  34. What are point sandwiches, Helen? I’ve googled it but am not much the wiser…look like ordinary sangers to me!

    1. They are sandwiches divided into four “points”, generally with the crust cut off. It is a term used in catering and can still be found on the menus of old afternoon tea (NEVER SAY HIGH TEA FOR IT IS WRONG) establishments.

  35. Sad news Helen, but i think i understand. Like most of the others i felt a pang of guilt that i hadn’t been buying much lately, with the dubious rationalisation that i have my ‘regular’, and he’s not around… Am i dreaming, but wasn’t one of yours about visiting a sex party? Should be a ‘Best ff’. Anyway, well done on yet another noble exit, and i look forward to your next venture, cheers

  36. 3,000 words to say “I’m quitting as a writer for The Big Issue not because I want to stop helping the vendors, or because I disagree with the project’s politics as a whole, or because I will ever forget the support I had from them at difficult moments in my career, but because the people running the show are a bunch of ostrich-in-the-sand, free marketeer, investment-and-innovation-ideology-peddling Hayekian delusionists.” Seems a tad long.

    1. I am a Silly Billy trying to substantiate a view with recourse to fact and story. I should have just tweeted “down with capitalism”. Next time.

  37. Nice one Ms Razor. Thanks for reminding me that TBI is the guy standing on the corner, rain or shine, earning a pittance – and yet making us all feel good for having a chat and buying a mag. Shameful. And of course, the ‘New Direction’ taken by the Board continues this unhappy exchange. I will continue to buy the mag – and have chats. And support the people in the hi-viz vests. There’s no hope for the Board.

  38. Admire your insight and conscience. I wonder if the thick-skinned will get it?
    I agree with you wholeheartedly about Gates, Zuckerberg & Cook. They should pay their fair share of taxes (and then some) back into the societies that made them rich and let Society decide how the money should be spent to make the world a better place. The avarice and egos of these people know no bounds.

  39. This made me angry. Helen, I have been where you are, working for a large charitable organisation that I believed in, only to have them change upper management and bring in a business model that emphasized expediency, increased funding options, ‘deserving poor’ categorization, and a top-down model of leadership. I watched the homeless I worked with get screwed. Like you, I quit. I now work for less than forty thousand, and had to spend two years virtually unemployed.

    But you know what? We all die sometime, and if our lives flash before our eyes then at least I’ll know I kept my head above the bullshit. Good luck, and great article.

  40. Principled statement Helen. I was going to write “courageous” however that seems inappropriate with winter upon us as the Vendors continue to eek out their role in the rain. This “corporatisation” of everything in society really has swung too far. I work for a major Australian airline whose founders were two Pilots and an Engineer. Our Board also has zero grass roots representation, it’s compiled of financial and marketing types. Recent statements to staff highlighted how completely out of touch they are with the spirit / core of what we do. Your piece here shows me how pervasive this has become.

    I’ll continue to subscribe to TBI (even though your contribution was the 1st I’d turn to).

  41. So I’m guessing the Daily Review has less capitalist, trickle down motives than TBI , otherwise Razer would not be writing for them… ? Or would she.

  42. Thank you – I am with you Helen – these financial services types have much to learn and I not think they have much time in which to do it – I will be happy giving $3.50 with nothing in return.

    1. I fear that you may be a troll. TheDaily Review is part of the media and does not have poor people selling its issues on the street, so you are drawing quite a long strawman with that comment.

    2. Hey, MP, as per my response to Jim: I’m not sure if this is a wise thing to do. First, many vendors are much more comfortably in exchanging a commodity for money than they are in being a “charity case”. My local guy, for example, rings the coppers when he sees people soliciting on his beat. A lot of vendors feel very strongly that they are providing a useful item. Which they are. I am sure the magazine will continue to be good.
      Second, if this becomes a trend as the result of my article (unlikely, but. anyhow) then we risk criminalising a very disadvantaged group of people.
      Just because I disagree with the board (not the publication) I don’t begrudge vendors their experience of vending. Again, I feel that they will be the people who get screwed if people say “I won’t buy this document!”.
      Please continue to buy The Big Issue. But, thanks.

  43. This is a true “J’accuse…” cri-de-coeur – and until properly answered I shall rather than buy the mag. simply give half its cost to the first vendor I see on the day it appears.

    1. I understand this response. But, the vendor might not enjoy it. Many vendors have expressed the view to me that they feel better about exchanging a commodity for money than in simply receiving the money. Also, I’m unsure about what accounting they need to legally provide. Or whether your donation could be legally misconstrued as their solicitation.

      1. Buy the magazine, pay the vendor full price, look at the cover, hand it back so they can sell it again. Done it plenty of times. Vendor most grateful.

    2. Well said, Helen – thanks for the “teaching” – how narrow my own perspective! Shall take the copy – maybe adding a 50% bonus? Maybe not!

    3. I witnessed a Vendor refusing to sell TBI to a regular buyer after noticing the person don’t read the Magazine.

  44. Helen I am so glad you write as you do, regardless. That is easy for me to say I know. I am really really upset by yet again seeing the poor and marginalised kicked in the guts by people who purport to ‘help’ them. Do those who have good ideas around social enterprise and enabling those who our society needs to be sidelined but refuses to support, always have to sell out??? I will keep buying the Big Issue while the vendors get such a % of the sales, but I will be watching closely what happens next. Thanks for the alert, Helen.

  45. Same as Steve Clements, this article has made me feel ashamed that I didn’t buy every edition, even though walking by the stalwart fellow on Coogee Bay Rd pretty much every Saturday.

    And so, from now on, I will.

    It seems appropriate to post this quote, which coincidentally came by me recently, although I think I have read it before, from a Mr Tolstoy. You may have read some of his works.

    “”I sit on a man’s back, choking him and making him carry me… I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by all possible means – except by getting off his back”.

      1. Thanks, Tim. But, you’re fighting a losing battle. Even if one says very explicitly “I am using this personal case to illustrate a broader point that is socially, not individually, significant”, there will still be comments saying “you’re up yourself”. Actually, come to that, one can write a piece that uses no personal pronoun whatsoever and still get the same response.
        We can be, at least, sure that Uby has felt a little moment of intellectual and moral victory that came at no cost of actually reading. Which is nice for Uby.

  46. Thanks for this brilliant honesty! You have captured this trend towards private enterprise solutions to social issues. Take a look at Social Impact Bonds for the epitome of this.

  47. Helen you’re totally onto it, as always. Keep doing all the good things you do for the right reasons. You’re on the right side of history.

    1. I am just a grouchy middle-aged gardener who funds her plant habit with written opinion. Don’t like me! but thanks anyhoo x

  48. I understand your sadness. The ethics (or what passes for them) of the finance world have no place in a genuinely egalitarian enterprise, in my opinion. Aping the corporate world well and truly munted the public sector’s social welfare agencies: now the non-government sector is infected as well. Come the revolution, and bloody quickly.

  49. I’ve always loved TBI and its always jarred me how its used to ‘prove’ the charitable notions of people / organisations. For example, when I worked at a large national right wing law firm in the workplace relations section, they ‘prided’ themselves on buying TBI as a sign of their ‘social awareness’ (mind you they paid building concierge to acquire the publication – heaven forbid they actual deal with a vendor!). It was nauseating and an incendiary move of hypocrisy.

    And it was a CV ‘highlight’ for others to be on charitable oragnisation Boards – despite the fact most of them actively worked to shut down or stymie the programs that those organisations tried to keep going every year on a shoestring budget.

    It is sad to hear that TBI is being populated by such corporate types that pay lips service to the organisations aim, whilst promoting their individual ‘brand’ (‘did you hear? I’m on the board of that *wonderful* charity). But I admire your principled stand. Once that emotionally and financially must be difficult. Bravo for pitting your money where your mouth is.

  50. I will continue to purchase tbi but i am going to sincerely miss your articles.
    Your critque is spot on and it saddens me because experience has demonstrated that this shift in focus and the embracing of the corporate expansion and tickle down ideology is a foot on the road to destruction.

  51. Great article Helen. It will TBI’s loss, but you will find a way to help others. This piece made me feel ashamed of myself for not buying TBI as often as I should have, and that in itself is a reason you should feel proud – by awakening others who may, in future, show a smidgeon of the compassion you have.

    1. Don’t attribute moral refinement to me, Steve! I am not especially compassionate. I am simply profoundly annoyed by the way disadvantage is produced and demanded by our current social organisation. It’s illogical. It offends my faculty for reason, even if it also secretly breaks my heart.
      Please, don’t think of me as good. Because, I’m really not. And the good rests not in individuals in any case, but in better forms of social organisation.
      But, thanks x

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