CHARITIES have rejected a suggestion made by the government
minister responsible for the charity sector last week that they
should stay out of politics and "stick to their knitting". The
Conservative MP Brooks Newmark was giving his first speech as
Minister for Civil Society, at an event about charity involvement
in public services.
Civil Society magazine reported that he had responded
to a question about charities' campaigning by saying: "We really
want to try to keep charities and voluntary groups out of the
realms of politics. Ninety-nine-point-nine per cent 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.
"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."
His comments provoked a political debate; his Labour Shadow Lisa
Nandy telling The Guardian: "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
The head of advocacy for Christian Aid, Laura Taylor, said on
Tuesday that she also disagreed with Mr Newmark. "I would
definitely say that charities have a role to play in shaping the
public debate. We cannot be party political, and we would never
want to endorse one party over another, but charities' voices are
A similar row erupted earlier this year, when the Conservative
MP Conor Burns reported Oxfam to the Charity Commission over an
advert that referred to the Government's welfare reforms (News, 13
A spokesman from the Charity Commission said at the time: "From
lobbying politicians to running online petitions, charities can
engage in a range of activities to support their charity's aims.
But charities must never be politically biased."
Oxfam's director of campaigns, Ben Phillips, said on Monday that
his charity would not stop lobbying politicians if it felt it was
"When, through our work on the ground, we find something that
policy-makers need to address, it is our duty to tell them and tell
Ms Taylor said that, for charities such as Christian Aid, it was
impossible to stay out of politics if they wanted to help people.
"Influencing people in power is really embedded in most of our
work." She said that Christians had been part of charity-led
political campaigns, such as the Jubilee Debt Campaign and
While Mr Newmark suggested that many donors would prefer their
money not to be spent on political lobbying, a survey by the
consultancy nfpSynergy earlier this year suggested that "almost
nobody is put off giving to a charity by its campaigning
Only four per cent of those questioned selected "the charity
campaigning to change the law" as a reason that they would be
reluctant to support a charity. Some 58 per cent agreed that
"charities should be able to campaign to change laws and government
policies relevant to their work", and ten per cent disagreed.