Government minister tells charities to 'stick to their knitting' and stay out of politics

Brooks Newmark's comment was variously described as 'incredibly insulting', 'sexist' and 'dismissive'

Charities should stay out of politics and “stick to their knitting” instead, according to Brooks Newmark, the charities minister.

Speaking at a conference held by the Cabinet Office's Centre for Social Action and the charity Nesta, Mr Newmark said the vast majority of charities did not get involved in political issues, but said those that strayed into politics were not acting in a way that donors would want.

His remark about knitting was variously described as “incredibly insulting”, “sexist” and “dismissive”.

According to the Civil Society Media website, Mr Newmark said in his first speech as charities minister: “We really want to try and keep charities and voluntary groups out of the realms of politics.

“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.”

Mr Newmark said he believed social action was “at the heart of what it meant to be a father, an active citizen and a politician”.

David Cameron's much vaunted “big society” idea meant “making it easier for people to help their families, their communities and those around them, contributing to making this country a better place”, Mr Newmark added.

“We should be shouting this from the roof. This is one of the most successful and powerful forces around,” he said.

“The British public are the most generous in the world, they never fail to reach into their pockets to give or give their valuable time to help others.”

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said on Twitter that it was “incredibly insulting for the charities minister to tell civil society to 'stick to its knitting' and I think sexist too”.

Alexandra Runswick, director of the campaign group Unlock Democracy, told The Guardian that charities “should be able to advocate, not just knit”.

And Lisa Nandy, the shadow minister for civil society, added: “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.”

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