INTERNATIONAL MEN’S DAY
Today I had the privilege of giving the opening and closing speeches on this debate in Parliament.
I explained why we need a Minister for Men & Boys. There are so many reasons why men and boys need help at this time.
Yes there are successful men. That does not mean though that all men are successful. There are many successful women but we still have a Minister for Women and a Women’s Health Strategy. The reasoning that says some men are successful and therefore all men are is a flawed argument.
We need to stop the sniggering and start supporting. Together we can build a better society. A society where we all achieve our full potential. A society where we lead richer fuller lives.
The Government is listening. Men’s Health Taskforce and a Men’s Health Ambassador are excellent initiatives by the Department for Health and Social Care. They are huge strides forward. However the end goal has to be a Minister For Men & Boys and a National Men’s Health Strategy.
I would also take the opportunity of saying thank you to Ben Bradley MP and Philip Davies MP without whose hard work and effort in Parliament we would not have achieved any of the progress that has been made.
TRANSCRIPT OF MY SPEECH
I beg to move,
That this House has considered International Men’s Day.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, especially after all the work that you, Mr Davies, and my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) have already done on this subject. We are here to celebrate International Men’s Day, which took place on Sunday 19 November. It is a day to celebrate all the good that men have done, but also a day to shine a light on the things that adversely affect men so much.
The theme this year was suicide. Thirteen men a day take their life. Thirteen men who woke up yesterday morning are no longer with us—and today, another 13, and tomorrow, again, another 13. Every day, every week, every year. Just let that sink in. Thirteen men, every day, think the only out is to take their life. In 2023, that cannot be right, can it?
What is the answer? Sadly, there is no silver bullet, but there are steps we can take—steps we must take—and suicide is not the only issue affecting men, so I am going to take us through a few of them but then through some solutions too.
Let me start by taking us through a boy’s life. Let us call him Tommy. Tommy never asked to be born—none of us did—but Tommy is here. Tommy needs care and attention from day one, not just from mum at home, but also from dad. Human interaction is crucial to a child’s development. Playing peekaboo is, as my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Dame Andrea Leadsom) said, so much more important than we would think.
Sadly, Tommy’s mum and dad argue a little too much. Money, housing, health, work—there are so many things that make relationships hard. We know that life is not easy; that is why marriage vows have, for centuries, included the words, which we all know, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. Tommy’s parents separate. Sadly, too many times, it turns into a battle. In come the solicitors. To win their case, too many use blame as a tool, a child as a weapon. The legal system makes it so hard for children. Lawyers want to win at all costs, parents say things that should not be said, and the truth is often embellished on all sides. An acrimonious split is achieved. Tommy now does not see dad, and Tommy’s mum now has it all to do. Not work, rest and play; just work, then work at home, and then little sleep for Tommy’s mum.
What of Tommy’s dad? Dad is ousted from the home, unable to see his son. Many fathers are prevented unfairly. There is child maintenance to be paid; the Child Maintenance Service presents another challenge. Tommy’s dad often turns inwards and often to the fridge, looking for relief. It could be beer, the wrong food, both—or worse.
Little Tommy gets a PlayStation and a smartphone. The world wide web influencers now come into play in Tommy’s life. They want to sell a brand and themselves; they have no care for what little Tommy sees. Tommy’s schoolwork suffers. There are no male teachers at his school—there are very few male teachers now—no role models to follow other than the wrong ones. There is a decreasing number of positive male role models on TV. Tommy plays up at school. Nobody expects anything of him—written off at such an early age. Knowing this, Tommy plays up even more. One day, he finds himself excluded from school. Tommy becomes easy prey. A local gang shows him respect for now, shows interest for now. Antisocial behaviour follows: disrespect for police, drugs, a knife, a spell inside. Mum is in despair. Where did it go wrong?
Tommy’s father is now probably overweight. He is drinking too much, has anxiety, no sense of value and feels that he has nothing to live for. Sadly, Tommy’s dad becomes another statistic; one of the 13 a day who die by suicide. Tommy finds a girl amid this car crash of a life. They want to make a go of it together. They have a beautiful little boy—Tommy junior—and, sadly, the cycle begins again. That is quite depressing, but we all know that it is true.
It really does not need to be like that. As I said, there is no silver bullet, but there might be something close. Let me go through this and show how it cuts across all Departments of the Government. Tommy’s first 1,001 days are so important. We need to push the family hubs out across the country as soon as possible—Department: Work and Pensions.
Keeping families together saves so much pain and heartache, and saves the state so much money. Some 66% of mums want to stop at home and look after their child. We need to offer them the same support that we offer mums who want to return to work. Mums have a genuine choice; we need dads to have the same choice. We need to build many more homes where people need them. That way, we will have more choice, which will automatically raise the standard. We also need a fairer tax system for families—Departments: DWP, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and the Treasury.
To stop the hate and separation, we need a new model when it comes to family law: fairness for fathers, as well as for mothers, and a system that treats fathers as equally in practice as it does in theory. What works in civil litigation does not work here. Little Tommy needs mum and dad, so that has to be the starting point of any separation—Department: Justice.
Influencers need to understand their audience, and the damage that they can do. We have to get them to quit being a problem. The Online Safety Act 2023 will help, but we cannot legislate for people being decent, just as we cannot legislate to force people to be kind. We need to name and shame the culprits.
We need leisure centres and youth clubs. Tommy missed out again yesterday in Edlington; there is no leisure centre for Tommy, so he spends 14,000 hours on his games console, like the average boy does up to the age of 21—Departments: Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and DLUHC.
There are four million children living with only one parent. In 88% of those families, the parent with care of the children is mum. If we assume an even distribution in family size, we can estimate that around 3.52 million children live with their mothers; that is 1.76 million boys without a dad at home. We need to introduce and maintain a flagging system in schools that flags fatherless boys as they start secondary school. All boys need mentorship and to be met with a positive attitude. Fatherless boys need that especially—Department: Education.
When it comes to stopping gangs, the police’s Operation Duxford is working, but we need to do more. We need a zero-tolerance attitude and a broken-window strategy, so that our young people know how to behave. The gangs must be dealt with from the bottom up. Capturing the ring leader is not the answer; he is often replaced within an hour, once caught, so we need to stop his workers on the street—Department: Home Office.
On a quick side note, tags are a deterrent to others, as well as to the one who is tagged. One young man told me that, when he had to wear one, all of the individuals who might have dragged him back into crime actually kept away. They did not want to be with him, because they could be traced. Through being tagged, that young man has been able to leave criminality behind and is now back on the straight and narrow.
I will get back to the Departments. Separated dads are often unable to spend time with their children. They are in despair, and we need to do more to help them. Men may often turn to the wrong lifestyle choices when things are not right. We have an NHS system that does not fit around the patterns that men often work. We need men to discuss their issues, become part of a community, feel valued and have access to their kids—Department: Health and Social Care.
I have listed many Departments, but there are issues for men who work that are covered by so many more. I have heard of loneliness in occupations. With regards to suicide, lonely farmers are a concern. Spending long days in tractors on their own is no good. Isolation is hard to cope with—Department: Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The soldier who leaves the forces and cannot find his way in civilian life on civvy street is another concern—Department: Defence.
The list goes on, and many Departments are doing much to help. The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, and Ministers both past and present, have been amazing. They have been listening. Just this weekend, they announced help with issues that so many men face: prostate cancer screening, access to health services online and a taskforce to understand how men access physical services. All of that is good to hear. These steps will undoubtedly save many lives, and it goes further.
The announcement of a men’s health ambassador is great news too—a huge stride forward. We have a Minister for women, and she is doing great work, but if we want to help all the men and boys such as Tommy with their poor life prospects, we must do more. If we want to stop men such as Tommy’s dad taking their own life, and to give Tommy’s mum a life that is not just sheer hard work for seemingly very little return, we need a Minister for men and boys—a Minister who will connect all the dots and join all the Departments together, who will take men’s health and wellbeing seriously, and who will ask the following questions whenever any policy is announced: how does it affect men? How does it affect their families? How does it help society as a whole? As Warren Farrell states:
“When one sex loses, both sexes lose.”
That is very true.
I thank the Minister for everything she has done, but she should use her influence to inform our Prime Minister about the debate and give him this message: no matter how many men there are around his Cabinet table, or how many men there are in the boardrooms of FTSE 100 companies, men still need help. She should tell him not to forget little Tommy. Trust me, he is desperate. Whether he is five, 15 or 25, he is desperate.
I am the biggest believer in personal responsibility. Not everything can or should be down to the Government, so I ask the nation to talk up men. I ask the nation to look for the good in them. I ask the nation to ask them if they are okay. When they say they are fine, ask them again. Many men are not fine; they need our help and support. Look out for the little Tommy in your community. See if you can be of help to him through his mum or his school. Trust me, if we do not do so, the 13 suicides a day will not stop at 13. The figure will rise, the prisons will only get more full, and too many more women and girls may be hurt along the way.
In conclusion, when the subject of a Minister for boys and men is mentioned, stop sniggering and start supporting. We need to quit being part of the problem and start being part of the solution, because when one sex wins, both sexes win.