Charities 'to keep out of politics'

A number of Tory backbenchers criticised Oxfam earlier this year for "political" opposition to benefit cuts and zero-hour contracts

Brooks Newmark, the minister responsible for David Cameron's Big Society drive

First published in National News © by

The minister responsible for David Cameron's Big Society drive is embroiled in a row after telling charities to "stick to their knitting" and keep out of politics.

Brooks Newmark, who was appointed in the summer reshuffle, used his first major intervention to criticise organisations that "stray" from their core functions.

According to the civilsociety.co.uk website, Mr Newmark told a conference on social action: "We really want to try and keep charities and voluntary groups out of the realms of politics. Some 99.9% do exactly that. When they stray into the realm of politics that is not what they are about and that is not why people give them money."

He added: "The important thing charities should be doing is sticking to their knitting and doing the best they can to promote their agenda, which should be about helping others."

Alexandra Runswick, director of campaign group Unlock Democracy, branded the Tory MP's words "condescending", arguing that said charities "should be able to advocate, not just knit".

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, wrote on Twitter: "Incredibly insulting for charities minister to tell civil society to 'stick to its knitting' & I think sexist too."

Shadow minister for civil society Lisa Nandy said Mr Newmark was spouting "patronising rubbish".

"It's his first speech as charities minister, and I think it's not just patronising but actually deeply offensive at a time when charities are picking up the pieces from this Government's awful, unfair policies, that their ministers would talk about them in such a dismissive way," she told the Guardian.

"This comes from a Government that hasn't just introduced the Lobbying Act but has also restricted charities using judicial review, cut legal aid, ramped up employment tribunal fees and clamped down on immigration appeals. What you're looking at is a Government that doesn't like challenge. That is quite a frightening place for a Government to have got itself into."

A number of Tory backbenchers criticised Oxfam earlier this year for "political" opposition to benefit cuts and zero-hour contracts.

But charities have insisted they are entitled to take positions on issues related to their work.

After his comments yesterday, Mr Newmark clarified that charities "absolutely have right to campaign but should stay out of realm of 'party' politics".

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