by Nick Fletcher MP
Last week, the debate on whether we should have a Minister for Men really took off. It all started with my Radio 4 Women’s Hour interview and then a phone-in. It has then continued across the weekend and into this week too. This included articles in the Daily Telegraph and the New Statesman.
To me, it is not a contentious issue and many have said so, especially as it is about helping those in our society who need support – as well as it being centred on inclusion and equality.
We have a Cabinet Minister, Kemi Badenoch, whose role includes being the Minister for Women and Equalities. We also have a Minister for Women, Maria Caulfield. We have a Women’s Health Strategy and a Women’s Health Ambassador.
These are significant achievements. They shine a spotlight on issues specific to women. But I find it troubling there is no Minister for Men or a Men’s Health Strategy, and also that there remains opposition to it. Even more so as it would clearly help women and girls too.
Men and Boys’ wellbeing is in crisis, but nothing is changing. In fact, it is not just ignored, but matters are getting worse. Even the Government Equalities Office does not mention men in its published remit. But look at the facts.
Today, 13 men will die by suicide, 88 men will die of heart disease; and over 2,500 men will be sleeping rough. Wembley Stadium can be filled by the number of men in prison, growing numbers of young men are not in education, work or training (over 400,000), and boys are behind girls at every stage of education. Around 35,000 fewer 18-year-old boys will go to the university this month than girls of the same age.
These are all troubling statistics, but having been elected to Parliament four years ago, I see very little focus from the Government to address them. Nor across wider society. When I see research from organisations such as Civitas that says 41% of sixth formers have been told in lessons things like ‘boys are a problem for society’ it’s clear to me that such an approach cannot be the answer. It only makes matters worse. It is hardly empowering for boys who are not doing well at schools, have dysfunctional families, and are being drawn into violence. No wonder research from the Future Men charity said 29% of young men feel ignored.
We need a Minister for Men.
They would provide a laser-like focus on these issues across government. He or even she, it does not matter to me, would hold government ministers to account and act as a focal point for policy change. They would also help to change the political conversation that seems to imply that only women have problems and only men are problems.
Many of the underlying issues causing these poor outcomes for men and boys are the same, but the responsibilities for the outcomes sit within different departments. It means if they are addressed at all, they are piecemeal and not joined up. A Minister for Men would help join this up as the Minister for Women does.
They would help to drive through better health outcomes for men and close the gender attainment gap in education. They would put the pedal to the metal in tackling the underlying causes for why so many men are in prison and why so many young men are excluded from schools.
We need policies for men like a men’s health strategy, for victims of domestic abuse/sexual violence, and for improving boys’ education. We need more male teachers.
One of the key groups that have been focused upon in the Government’s very welcome Suicide Prevention Strategy are middle-aged men and those working in construction and manufacturing. It shows these issues are being recognised but we need a Minister to hold those responsible for delivery to account.
We also need a positive conversation about men and boys centred on the great things they do and what help they need – not centred on the bad things that a very small minority do. Society has to care more about men and boys.
I know some people have said that we should not have a Minster for anyone, not for women or men. That is not realpolitik. We have had a Minister for Women in some shape or form for 25 years. To take that away, would actually be divisive and the debate that would ensue would not help women or men. We are where we are. That was a debate for 25 years ago.
Solving these issues will clearly support the lives of women and girls. It is obvious. Men and boys doing well means women and girls doing well too. We share our lives and society together. Healthier husbands and partners, sons and brothers doing well at school, less fear of violence, and, a better economy. It will help us all.
The current deafening silence from Westminster and Whitehall on these issues cannot continue. If we believe in an equal and inclusive society we need to look after our men and boys - and our women and girls. We can think two thoughts at once.
Nick Fletcher MP (Don Valley)