O2 offers free SIMs and data to Big Issue vendors to enable cashless payments

Big Issue
(Image credit: Big Issue / Exposure Photo Agency)

O2 is offering free SIM cards to Big Issue vendors as part of its National Databank intiaitve, hoping to address the challenges of digital poverty and enable contactless payments.

The Big Issue was founded three decades ago as a non-profit organisation that allows people living in poverty to earn an income by selling a magazine to the public. There are currently 1,500 vendors and the magazine sells 83,073 copies each week, generating £5.5 million for the people that sell it.

O2 will offer 7GB of data, along with unlimited calls and texts, to ensure vendors are not excluded from the digital society and economy, and to allow them to take cashless payment using a reader that connects to a mobile network.

Virgin Media O2 national databank

Big Issue says that since vendors started accepting cashless payments in 2019, some have seen sales increase by a third. Having a mobile phone also has other benefits, such as reducing the impact of digital poverty and improving mental health.  

“We are incredibly excited about this partnership. Not only does it mean our vendors will be able to boost their sales, but it also means they will be able to stay connected to their loved ones this Christmas,” said Russell Blackman, Commercial MD at The Big Issue.

“Whilst in 2019 we started to help ensure our vendors were connected, there are still many who need access. This partnership will ensure even more of our vendors are no longer left behind.”

“I can have a card reader, which increases my sales, but I need a mobile phone for that. I can now ring The Big Issue office when I need to, I can do banking on my phone,” added Rodney Lyall, a Big Issue vendor based in Bournemouth. “When I check my balance, I know how many magazines I can afford to buy that day. And my family are in Newcastle and I’m in Bournemouth, so being able to stay in touch when we’re so far apart has benefits for my mental health and wellbeing. You feel part of things.”

Virgin Media O2’s National databank intends to be like a ‘food bank’ for mobile data in acknowledgement that connectivity is not a luxury but an essential part of modern life. As society increasingly becomes digitised, Internet access is essential for education, work and access public services and anyone who remains offline is put at a disadvantage.

The company has pledged to get more than 255,000 people living in poverty connected by the end of 2023.

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Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.