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In his guest blog, Ewan Aitken of Cyrenians explains the motivation behind their #TellYourStory campaign, which challenges misconceptions about those affected by poverty.


Every day new statistics are released which suggest some part of our very existence is crumbling before our eyes.  From bacon as a cause of cancer, to the dangers of wine consumption; from the prevalence of sharks in British cost lines, to the dangers of global warming – we seem to be in danger of living and dying by numbers.   As a former politician, I know there’s always a statistic to prove a point and we should first be sceptical, if not cynical, of any news story based just on numbers.

Yet it was statistics produced recently by a poll commissioned by my own organisation, Cyrenians, which has probably scared me the most in recent months. As part of our brand relaunch, we wanted to find out what people thought about the people we journey with – those excluded from family, home, work or community – because often the biggest challenge they face is other people’s perception of who they are and what they are like.  So we commissioned YouGov to ask these questions across Scotland – and the numbers did not make for good reading…

The poll found that 28% believed laziness was the reason people found themselves living in poverty.  24% believed a lack of willpower was another contributory factor.

The same study showed that the majority of Scots think that unemployment (76%), addiction (59%) and family circumstances (56%) are main causes of poverty.

There were some positives. The poll found that Scots believed providing jobs (59%), working with families most at risk (58%), early intervention (53%) and providing education (51%) were the best ways the Government should help those living in poverty in Scotland; with only a tiny minority (6%) backing a reductions in benefits.

Over the next five years, Cyrenians aims to increase the number of people we support from 4400 to 6000 per year, in a major expansion of our work in Scotland as we respond to a rise in demand from those who feel excluded from family, home, work or community.

Our aim is also to shine a light on the different ways anyone can find themselves excluded. In order to change public perceptions of those in need we have launched our #TellYourStory campaign. The poll showed us just how important a task this is.  To encourage others to tell their story, we have published a series of case studies of people we have worked with and who, for a variety of reasons, have been excluded and fallen in to different types of poverty, only to turn their lives around with help from the innovative work of the charity. You can find them at www.cyrenians.scot/tellyourstory/

Cyrenians believes that working at an early stage with people in danger of becoming excluded, and working with those most at risk, are the best ways to reduce poverty; rather than blunt financial instruments or stigmatising language.  We want to build on that and challenge perceptions amongst the public that those in poverty are only there through laziness or lack of willpower.

We all have a past, a present and a future, so we are urging people to come forward and please, TELL YOUR STORY.

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