Let’s Stick To Knitting

Communications Support Officer at London Youth, Abdullah Mahmood, responds to comments made by the new Minister for Civil Society, Brooks Newmark, at the ‘People helping people – the future of public services’ event on Wednesday 3 September.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only person to notice the twitter reaction (read: backlash) to Brooks Newmark the new Minister for Civil Society’s comments at Nesta’s ‘People helping people – the future of public services’ event earlier this week.

His statements that“We really want to try and keep charities and voluntary groups out of the realms of politics” and“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” have really riled many within the youth sector with some accusing the Minister for Civil Society of patronising charities.

Of course he may have been referring to the fact that the vast majority of charities would probably rather not risk getting involved in party politics yet you can be “political” without necessarily being party political.

We can also acknowledge the value of having political backing for our cause because we as charities can be advocates for systemic change and can also provide an opportunity for politicians to understand the issues within their community, but we realise that in reality it is in the power of politicians and political parties to bring about that very change we fight for.

Of course it’s very much a two way thing whenever there is an association between a politician and a charity. The charity benefits due to the opportunity to influence change, whilst the politician can learn about the potential solutions to issues people within their community are facing while also enjoying the feel good factor from being seen to be supporting a cause that many people feel strongly about regardless of their party political affiliation.

One of our employability programmes, Build-it, works in the borough of Lambeth and we have been very fortunate to have benefited from the support of Lambeth Council throughout. In local terms this can make such a difference not only with funders but also with partner organisations to have the Leader of the Council, Cllr Lib Peck, endorse the work of the programme. Of course the fact that it also fits in with their 2014 Manifesto to provide more employment opportunities for young people is of benefit to them too.

Yet situations like this can put charities in an almost catch-22 situation. By having that valuable support and recognition from a policymaker while also sharing learning of the needs of young people currently experiencing unemployment and what we consider to be best practice, is there a risk we could be seen to be overstepping the mark?

Considering the many issues facing charities at the moment it is understandable that Brooks Newmark’s comments do not seem to have inspired much confidence amongst the sector. However, as with anything, his actions will speak louder than words and it will be interesting to see how he reacts to the strength of feeling within the sector about what he said in his first address as Minister to the youth sector, and his plans to ensure that charities can still be advocates for those they support.

In the end there has to be an acknowledgement that many of the issues charities fight for ARE political and that by “sticking to our knitting” we will end up straying into “the realms of politics”.

You can follow Abdullah on @abbyno7

We refer the Hon. Gentleman to the tweet we gave Jan 14.   #sticktoknitting#aheadofthegame http://t.co/QW5EpEEUUR

This blog was originally published on the London Youth website

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