I beg to move,
That this House has considered International Men’s Day.
Before I start, may I thank the Backbench Business Committee for finding time for this debate, and particularly for finding a date as close as possible to International Men’s Day, which actually falls on Saturday? This was the closest sitting day on which the debate could have been held, so I am very grateful to the Committee.
A few people have said that they cannot be here today. In particular, I said I would pass on the apologies of my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), the Chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee, who wanted to be here, but could not be for reasons beyond her control. I also thank the House of Commons Library, which has put together a fantastic brief for this debate. I urge all right hon. and hon. Members to read it, as it is illuminating on the subject of men’s issues. I also want to plug Incommunities, the social housing provider in my constituency, which has been celebrating International Men’s Day and last week held a “dads and lads” day at its premises. It was very successful. Finally, I want to thank the many people who have been in touch with me to tell me their story or to put forward their perspective on their life and problems. I am grateful to them for taking the time to do so.
The aims of International Men’s Day are admirable. Its objectives are: to promote male role models; to celebrate the contribution that men make; to focus on men’s health and wellbeing; to highlight discrimination against men and the inequalities that men and boys face; to improve gender relations and promote gender equality; and to create a safer world for everyone.
The UK theme for the day is “making a difference for men and boys”. That covers issues such as the high male suicide rate; the challenges faced by boys and men at all stages of education, including attainment; men’s health, particularly shorter life expectancy and workplace deaths; the challenges faced by the most marginalised men and boys in society—homeless men, boys in care and the higher rate of male deaths in custody, for example; male victims of violence, including sexual violence; the challenges faced by men as parents, particularly new fathers and separated fathers; and male victims and survivors of sexual abuse, rape, sexual exploitation, domestic abuse, forced marriage, honour-based crime, stalking and slavery.
I want to put on record the support I received from the Prime Minister, who wrote to me last month to say:
“I recognise the important issues that this event seeks to highlight, including men’s health, male suicide rates and the underperformance of boys in school. These are serious matters that must be addressed in a considered way. As I said on the steps of Downing Street on my first day as Prime Minister, one of the challenges we must confront is that white working-class boys are less likely than anyone else in Britain to go to university. I know that you held a debate in Westminster Hall last year on international men’s day, and I note that you are hoping to hold a debate in the Commons Chamber this year. Of course, this is not a matter for me as Prime Minister to decide, but I will watch with interest to see if your request is granted.”
Let me provide a bit of background. As I said in last year’s Westminster Hall debate, I wanted the men’s day to be the start of us dealing with some of the forgotten men’s issues—and there are plenty of them, far too many for me to cover in my speech today. I outlined some of the issues at the start, but I will not have time to deal with them all today. For example, I will not have time to mention the underperformance of boys in school or some of the male health issues. One thing we seldom, if ever, hear about in this place is the part-time gender pay gap. I have not heard it noted before, but when it comes to part-time workers, women are paid 6% more than men on average. I shall not have time to concentrate on all those issues, so I shall concentrate on just a few—male suicide, domestic violence, homelessness and injustice for fathers.
There is a very great difference—I fear that the Minister rather got this mixed up at the last questions session—between men raising issues, about which there is clearly no problem either in this House or in the wider world, and the raising of men’s issues. That is very different. Although we might get a lot of the former, we seldom get much of the latter, and that is what I want to focus on today.
I shall start with male suicide. According to the Library, in 2012 more than 4,500 men felt they had no choice but to take their own life. In 2013, the figure was nearly 5,000 men, while in 2014—the latest figure for which information appears to be officially available—it was 4,630 men. In fact, over the last 30 years, according to the Office for National Statistics figures, supplied to me by the Library, 134,554 men have taken their own life. The Campaign Against Living Miserably commissioned a poll that found that four in 10 men had considered suicide, with two fifths never talking to anyone about their problems. Half of those who did not seek help did not want people to worry about them; a third felt ashamed; nearly 40% did not want to make a fuss; and 43% did not want to talk about their feelings.
I want to put on record my congratulations to the Health Committee on embarking on its suicide prevention inquiry. It is looking at suicide across the board, but it is clear that this is an issue that affects men much more than women. The figures show that 75% of those who took their own life in 2014 were men and 25% were women.
Although I may not agree with the general thrust of the debate, I think that the hon. Gentleman is making an important point in this respect. May I ask whether he has disaggregated the figures that he has given? In Northern Ireland, for example, more people have committed suicide since 1997 than died in all the 30 years of the troubles, and the vast majority have been men. There were clearly specific issues and reasons behind that epidemic of suicides. Has the hon. Gentleman done any disaggregation to establish whether, for instance, people from former industrial areas who no longer have access to the role model of a miner or shipworker are affected in this way? He is on to something important, and I hope that we do not lose it in the generality of his introduction.
That is a good point. The reasons for these suicides are many and varied. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman contacts CALM, the Campaign Against Living Miserably, which has members who are real experts in this field, and also consults the Library briefing, which is also very illuminating. As he says, many factors are involved when people take their own life, and each one is an individual tragedy.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate, and on the powerful speech he is making. The House will have been shocked by the figures that he has just revealed. Is he confident that the Department of Health realises that this is a serious public health issue, which urgently needs to be addressed by general practitioners and hospitals up and down the land? That must be one of the main reasons why men are losing their life: it must be one of the main causes of avoidable deaths in this country. That such a large number of people should lose their life in an avoidable way is tragic, regardless of whether they are men or women.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Debates such as this are important because they highlight the problems and urge that more be done, and I also commend the Select Committee for looking into this issue.
I appreciate that the Committee’s inquiry is ongoing, but I had a look at some of the evidence that it has received so far. I was struck by, for instance, evidence from the British Transport police relating to the suicides with which they deal. They dealt with 388 fatalities in, I believe, the last year, of which 305 were suspected suicides; 81% were men and 19% were women, but this is not just a gender issue. According to the evidence, 57% of those people had a known mental health history, 22% had been reported missing, 11% had previous convictions—one person had a “suicidal” marker on the police national computer—4% were current in-patients in mental health units, and 2% were absent without leave from mental health units. Wider issues therefore need to be considered, but they are all tragic cases. It is clear that many of the people concerned had a known mental health history, but it is also clear that many did not, and we must not forget those people.
I do not want to pre-empt the Select Committee’s inquiry, but one point made in CALM’s submission is very pertinent to the debate. It said:
“Despite the evidence that the risk of suicide is disproportionate to men as a whole when compared to women, research is often gender neutral or narrowed beyond gender (e.g. by sexual orientation or age). As a result, there is no specific research carried out on men and societal and environmental factors. Broader, gender specific research could reveal hidden causes of suicide that have not yet been explored. For instance, there could be great benefit in researching the impact of testosterone reducing drugs on the rates of suicide in men, however the current lens of research funding and its gender neutral approach does not provide a platform for such research.”
I hope that the Government will take that on board. A message should go out from the House today. If anyone is feeling suicidal, we should say, “Please speak to someone. Don’t suffer alone, as too many men often do.”
I want people to be in no doubt that there are male victims of domestic violence and abuse, despite what people may think and despite the stereotypes that surround the issue. The notion that in every case of domestic violence or abuse the perpetrator is a big burly wife-beater is just that: a notion. According to a report from the Office for National Statistics, “Focus on Violent Crime and Sexual Offences”, which relates to the year ending March 2015 and was released in February of this year,
“The Crime Survey England and Wales estimates that 8.2% of women and 4.0% of men reported experiencing any type of domestic abuse in the last year (that is, partner / ex-partner abuse (non-sexual), family abuse (non-sexual) and sexual assault or stalking carried out by a current or former partner or other family member). This is equivalent to an estimated 1.3 million female victims and 600,000 male victims.”
It also confirmed that, specifically for partner abuse, 6.5% of women and 2.8% of men reported having experienced any type of partner abuse in the last year, equivalent to an estimated 1.1 million female victims and half a million male victims. The pattern is consistent at all levels of domestic violence. In other words, for every three victims of domestic abuse, two will be female and one will be male.
I did not want to interrupt the hon. Gentleman’s flow because I appreciate that what he is saying is very important, but at the beginning of this section of his peroration he rightly said that any person, male or female, who may feel suicidal, lost or alone should seek help. The Samaritans are available every day of the week, 24 hours a day, and their phone number, 116 123, is one that we should all be familiar with. The Samaritans are there for people in precisely these circumstances, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for intruding on his flow.
I do not need to forgive the hon. Gentleman; I welcome his intervention and am grateful for that public service announcement.
According to the ManKind Initiative, 20 organisations offer refuge or safe-house provision for male victims of domestic violence in the UK. There are a total of 82 spaces in the country, of which 24 are dedicated to male domestic violence victims only. For female victims, there are nearly 400 specialist domestic violence organisations providing refuge accommodation for women in the UK, with about 4,000 spaces for over 7,000 women and children. I suspect there are not sufficient spaces for female victims of domestic violence, but if there are 4,000 spaces for female victims of domestic violence, it follows that the 24 dedicated spaces for male victims of domestic violence clearly are not enough, when men make up a third of cases of people who suffer domestic violence.
What about the Government’s recent policy announcement to spend another £20 million on providing spaces, not for domestic violence victims generally, but specifically for female victims of domestic violence? The Government must not forget male victims of domestic violence either, and must provide suitable funding for them too, because they are getting forgotten about.
It is worth pointing out that according to the ManKind Initiative, male victims are over twice as likely as women—29% compared with 12% for women—not to tell anyone about the partner abuse they are suffering. Only 10% of male victims will tell the police compared with 26% of women, only 23% will tell a person in an official position compared with 43% of women, and only 11% will tell a health professional compared with 23% of women.
My hon. Friend is making a very good point and I am sure the House will recognise that domestic violence against men is probably far more underreported than domestic violence against women, although of course all domestic violence is abhorrent. Another problem for men who have been abused is that all too often they are denied the right to see their children once the relationship breaks up, because the system is still biased—sometimes for understandable reasons, sometimes not—in favour of the woman, and this compounds the problem for vulnerable men who have been victims.
My hon. Friend is right, and we must not forget fathers in the whole issue of bringing up children. As he says, in some cases it is perfectly right that the father, because of their behaviour, is denied access to the children, but in many cases it is not, and this is a massive problem for many people and is clearly one of the causes of the high suicide rate among men. It is not something that can be swept under the carpet. We must make sure that, where appropriate, fathers are given every assistance to have access to the children.
The hon. Gentleman will no doubt correct me if I am wrong, but I believe the criteria for deciding who has residence and contact in relation to children is the same in England as in Scotland, and it revolves around the best interests of the child, rather than the parents’ interests.
I do not have time to have a philosophical debate—[Hon. Members: “It’s a legal debate.”] Well, it is a question of what is considered to be in the best interests of the child, and my point is that children having access to their fathers is in their best interests more often than the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) indicated that the courts sometimes think. Children want access to their fathers, and in many cases they need such access. The whole point of being in this place is that when we think the law is wrong, we can do something about it.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware of any empirical research that shows that the legal system in Scotland or England is biased against fathers? I am not aware of any.
The hon. and learned Lady is trying to pretend that there is not an issue. I urge her to read the Library briefing, which she clearly has not done. Perhaps she will do us the courtesy of reading it before she—
I am not giving way to the hon. and learned Lady again. If she does not think that there is an issue—[Interruption.] Does the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) want to participate in the debate?
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker.
This had better be a point of order.
Is it in order for the hon. Gentleman to suggest that I have not read that briefing? When I asked him whether he was aware of any empirical research to back up an assertion he was making, he instead threw that back on to me and suggested that I had done something wrong. Is that in order?
That is not a point of order, as the hon. and learned Lady knows. The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) has not allowed her to intervene, but she has successfully put her view on record none the less.
I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I did allow the hon. and learned Lady to intervene twice, but it was a shame that in both those interventions, she had nothing to say about looking after the interests of fathers or about the rights of men. Instead, she tried to make this into some kind of gender-bashing exercise, which did her no credit whatever. If she does not think that fathers have problems getting access to their children, sometimes unfairly, all I can suggest is that she gets out more—[Interruption.] Perhaps she might get out more in her own constituency.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. I shall be keen to bring up some issues from my constituency precisely because I have met people at my surgery who find it easier to approach a female MP who will perhaps give them a more empathetic hearing, and who have not felt able to talk to anyone else about the access to their children that they feel is being denied to them.
Order. I must point out to the hon. Gentleman that he has now been on his feet for 20 minutes, which is the amount of time allowed for opening speeches. I am going to have to put an informal time limit on Back-Bench speeches in order to get everyone in, so I should be grateful if he would come to the end of his remarks.
I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have been trying to take interventions, but I will obviously abide by your ruling. I am also grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mims Davies) for her intervention.
I shall now canter through a few other issues that I said I would touch on and therefore must. On homelessness, according to St Mungo’s, 85% of rough sleepers are men. That is clearly an issue that needs to be addressed. With regard to injustice for fathers, Erin Pizzey, the founder of the first women’s refuge in the UK, has said:
“There are a lot of reasons why fathers are not with their children, not least that women won’t let them”.
When the Minister for Vulnerable Children and Families, my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Edward Timpson), was introducing legislation in 2014, he said—[Interruption.] The hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West wanted some evidence, but she cannot even be bothered to listen to it now. The Minister said:
“We recognise that the court should already take account of the importance of a child’s relationship with both parents, but there is currently no legislative statement to that effect. We want to reinforce by way of statute the expectation that both parents should be involved in a child’s life, unless the child is at risk of harm or it is not in the child’s best interests.”––[Official Report, Children and Families Public Bill Committee, 14 March 2013; c. 289.]
The hon. and learned Lady wanted some evidence; there it is.
One of the aims of International Men’s Day is to improve gender relations, which I absolutely support. As I have said before, I want to be very clear that I do not believe there is an issue between men and women. I would actually rather we did not have to be here having this debate, and that we did not have separate international women’s and men’s days. The problem has been stirred up by politically correct people who want to make it a war on gender. In so many ways, considering men and women separately as though they lived in complete isolation is absolutely ridiculous. Neither group is isolated. Both sexes have mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, uncles and aunts, grandmothers and grandfathers, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, and boyfriends and girlfriends. Every woman has related male parties and therefore a vested interest in men’s issues. That is an unavoidable fact. Some issues affect men alone or more than women and vice versa, but both men and women have an interest in such issues and in working together without politically correct gender splits. If we were able to do that in this House, that would be much better.
I have just done a quick calculation and if everybody, including the Front-Bench speakers, takes about eight minutes, we will get everybody in. If anybody speaks for much longer than that, we will have to start cutting the limit, but if we stick to eight minutes, that should be fine.
I certainly will not take eight minutes, Madam Deputy Speaker. I congratulate the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) on securing this debate on International Men’s Day. I recognise some of the important issues that the day seeks to highlight, particularly in relation to men’s mental health and wellbeing and tackling male suicide, which is the event’s chosen theme for 2016.
In truth, there is scarcely a more pertinent theme than “Stop Male Suicide”. The stark statistics highlight worrying trends and a growing crisis. It is worth taking a few moments to examine the shocking nature of just two of the headline statistics: suicide is the largest cause of death of men under 45; and the suicide rate for men is three times higher than that for women. Why is suicide becoming a highly gendered occurrence? The answer, in part, relates to how men are brought up to act and the roles, traits and behaviours that society expects of them. From an early age, boys are often subjected to pernicious masculine conditioning that demands that, rather than talk about their emotions and how they feel in times of difficulty or crisis, they should “man up”. They are told, “Boys don’t cry, do they?”
By adulthood those underlying societal expectations are so ingrained that for a man to show any sign of perceived weakness is viewed as a social taboo. Men’s reluctance to seek help and support when distressed adds to their vulnerability, with many instead preferring simply to bury their head in the sand or turn to drink or drugs despite the damaging effects on employment, personal finances, and relationships, and the social isolation, low self-esteem and homelessness, all of which are known to be common triggers associated with suicide. The inescapable truth is that if we are ever to tackle the high male suicide rate, we need to encourage men to start to talk about how they feel.
In Coventry, that encouragement and those conversations are being initiated by a new mental health awareness and suicide prevention campaign called “It Takes Balls to Talk”. The campaign is the brainchild of Alex Cotton, a mental health nurse and one of my constituents, and was launched last month. It is a public information programme targeted at male-dominated sporting venues across Coventry and Warwickshire and uses sporting themes to raise awareness of mental health support services. It seeks to reduce male suicide by encouraging men to talk about their feelings, and it aims to help men to understand that it is important not to keep their feelings to themselves, and to direct them to help and support, when they need it, in order to promote positive mental health.
“It Takes Balls to Talk” recognises how societal expectations have shaped men’s behaviour in how they deal with or, more accurately, fail to deal with their emotions, feelings and wellbeing. It plays a vital role in breaking down the barriers that prevent men from positively engaging with mental health services in the local area. This is of paramount importance as research shows that up to 85% of men who take their own life have not been reached by current public health messages and have never been known to mental health services. That statistic alone shows the importance that targeted initiatives such as “It Takes Balls to Talk” could make in changing the country’s appallingly high male suicide rates. After all, is that not what we are all striving for? We all want to see an end to a national tragedy that can be counted in the thousands of lives that are lost each year through suicide. We all have a shared responsibility to act, tackle this issue head on and ensure that no more fathers, sons, brothers or friends are stolen from us needlessly.
I join in the thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) for launching this topic on what is probably an unsuspecting House.
Having recently had a small brush with the Committee on Standards in Public Life, I must declare some interests. One thing I will touch on relates to dentistry, and I still practise a tiny bit of dentistry. Then there is the obvious one: I am a male and a father of three sons, so I have a considerable interest in this particular subject. Even my wife says that I am overly interested in it.
My original thoughts on this topic are derived from a cover story in that highly respected weekly journal, The Economist. Its cover story, at the end of May last year, was entitled “The Weaker Sex”. As many members of the fairer sex, particularly my wife, my sister, my daughter and my daughters-in-law, point out, a superficial first glance would suggest that males’ domination of cultural and political life is secure. More than 90% of Presidents and Prime Ministers are male, as are nearly all big corporate bosses. Men appear to dominate finance, technology, films, sports and music. With that said, there is still plenty of cause for concern. Men tend to find themselves either at the very top or at the very bottom of our systems. They are far more likely than women to be jailed; more likely to be estranged from their children; and, as we have heard, very much more likely to commit suicide. Men earn fewer university degrees than women. Boys in the developed world are 50% more likely to fail maths, reading and science entirely.
Then we have the little issue of the human papilloma virus. Girls are vaccinated against it—this is to stop cervical cancer. It is unlikely that men will get cervical cancer, but they do get penile cancer. From my point of view as a dentist, roughly 40% of head and neck cancers are caused by the virus. More men get head and neck cancer than women, so why are we not vaccinating boys as well as girls? It is long overdue. The Australians do it; and if the Australians are doing it, we have just got to do it. These trends are particularly apparent in working-class men living in developed countries who have struggled to adapt to a hugely changed world and to the increasing changes to the job market in the past 50 years. The ever increasing power of technology and the ability to import more from abroad has seen a steep decline in the need for traditional muscle-based work in the United Kingdom.
By sharp contrast, women are becoming a majority in key areas such as healthcare and education. They are helped by their superior skills, which they gain because they respond better to education. As education has become more important, boys have fallen behind girls in school. The latest shock is in the theatre. The role of King Lear has been played by many male greats such as John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier and Donald Sinden, whom I knew so well, and many other superior male actors. Now that male role has been taken by our former colleague, or comrade, Glenda Jackson. Christopher Biggins’ Widow Twankey does not quite match that!
The way that males are becoming the weaker sex is seriously worrying. It is even happening in the Antipodes. In 25 years’ time, there is a possibility that the New Zealand women’s rugby team will beat the All Blacks—actually, realistically, that is probably a haka too far.
The article in The Economist that I mentioned says:
“Men who lose jobs in manufacturing often never work again. And men without work find it hard to attract a permanent mate. The result, for low-skilled men, is a poisonous combination of no job, no family and no prospects.”
The political consensus has been that economics is to blame for this situation. The argument goes that shrinking job opportunities for men are entrenching poverty and destroying families. In America, pay for men with only a high school certificate fell by 21% in real terms between 1979 and 2013; for women with similar qualifications, it rose—only by 3%, but it rose. Around a fifth of working-age American men with only a high school diploma have no job.
Part of the solution lies in a change in cultural attitudes, as the hon. Member for Coventry North East (Colleen Fletcher) mentioned. Over the past generation, middle-class men have learned that they need to help with childcare, and they have changed their behaviour, but, sadly, it appears from the Economist article and others that working-class men need to catch up. Women have learned that they can be doctors, dentists, surgeons, opticians, engineers and physicists without losing their femininity. Men need to understand that traditional manual jobs are not coming back, but that they can be nurses, hairdressers, waiters or—this is vital—primary school teachers. I visited a primary school today which has a totally female staff except for one male teacher. The headmistress spoke about the vital importance of a male role model in the school, which is missing from many other schools.
The most important focus must be reform of the education system, which is essentially still based in a pre-digital era where most male jobs were, as I said, muscle-based. We as politicians need to recognise that boys’ underachievement is a serious problem, and we need to sort it out now. Some sensible policies that are good for everybody are particularly good for boys. Early childhood education provides boys with more structure and a better chance of developing verbal and social skills. Countries with successful vocational systems, such as Germany, have done a better job than we have here in the UK. We need to reinvent vocational education for an age when trainees are more likely to get jobs in hospitals, IT or teaching than in factories.
The growing equality of the sexes is one of the biggest achievements of the post-war era: people have greater opportunities than ever before to achieve their ambitions, regardless of their gender. We have to accept that many men fail to cope in this world. When it comes to health, men really are the weaker sex. They are more likely to get cancer than women and are also more likely to die from it. They are more likely to suffer from heart disease, stroke and obesity. When it comes to happiness, women again appear to have the upper hand, to judge from the suicide rates. Experts know that men are particularly bad at seeking medical help, even when they need it. Men are still dying younger. In England and Wales, 42% of men die before their 75th birthday. The corresponding figure is 26% for women. I think about this every time I struggle to open a door for a lady.
It is very easy and tempting to blame men for the current position and to be fatalistic about it, but that is not the way forward. To put an absolute number on it, almost 100,000 men—enough to fill all the British Army’s full-time posts—are dying prematurely each year, compared with 66,000 women. Much of this is self-inflicted. As a group, men out-drink and out-smoke women. Men are also more likely to end their life violently in a car accident or, as has been mentioned, by suicide. Interestingly, the rates of suicide attempts do not differ between men and women; men are just better at it.
It is generally accepted that men are very bad at seeking help. Men visit the GP less because the health system is not working for them. It is not male-friendly. Could it be that aspects of our society have turned so far towards women that they are now against men?
Despite the obvious sense of many of the contributions, I feel slightly uncomfortable with the subject of this debate. Although I recognise differentials in terms of suicide, the number of primary school teachers and perhaps even fathers’ residence rights, it is not women who caused misogyny, it is not women who caused the pay gap, and it is certainly not women who deprived women of the vote. Should we not be working towards equality, or am I just a man who cannot cry, or a feminist? I am not quite sure.
Order. I just remind the hon. Gentleman that we have an informal limit of eight minutes. Nothing has been imposed, but he has been speaking for almost 10 minutes now, so if he could start coming to a conclusion, I would be very grateful.
I think I will probably be one of the last men—certainly in my area and my family—to be called a misogynist. We are failing men; that is the point.
We have the Women and Equalities Committee, and I am sorry the Chairwoman is not here, but perhaps, under the equalities section of its remit, it could look into the issue of where we are failing men.
I extend my appreciation to the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) and others for securing this Backbench Business debate.
Quite often when we discuss gender issues, the focus seems to be on women. While that might be for good reason, it is vital that gender-based issues affecting men, or matters that may be more prevalent among men, are not overlooked. Today’s debate is important as it sends a strong signal to men everywhere that those issues are taken seriously in this place.
Though society has made great steps forward to break down deep-rooted patriarchal attitudes, we still have far to go. Sadly, it is still considered a societal norm to tell someone to “man up” if they are perceived as showing any weakness. Idiomatic terms such as that, or telling someone to “be a man about it” are a reflection of the roles many people—whether consciously or subconsciously—expect men to play.
In much the same way that misogynist values are challenged, perhaps we need to be a little more open-minded about what we view as misandrist. It is no wonder that we see negative consequences such as mental health problems and a high male suicide rate, which stem heavily from such gender-based attitudes.
Men’s health is worse than women’s everywhere in the world. Men have a higher incidence of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and obesity. In every country in the world, except China, where it is equal, the male suicide rate is much higher than the female rate. On average, male suicides outstrip female ones by a shocking ratio of three to one. In some countries, the ratio is even higher. In Russia, for instance, where constructs of masculinity are perhaps more akin to those in the UK several decades ago, male suicides outweigh women’s by six to one.
In the UK, suicide also disproportionately affects men. Some 76% of suicides are men, and suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45. It really is something we ought to discuss with greater frequency. It is not acceptable that, on average, 12 men kill themselves in the UK each day. Much more needs to be done in all corners of the UK.
In Scotland, the male-to-female suicide ratio is the lowest in the UK, yet that is nothing to celebrate, as it is still alarmingly high. Men in Scotland are roughly three times more likely to kill themselves than women. There is no simple fix for this problem; it is multifaceted, with many influencing factors.
This high suicide rate is more than a symptom; it should be an alarm bell warning us of what is truly an epidemic, and we really need to get a handle on the other issues that drive the ratio up. The hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) mentioned the services of the Samaritans, and the hon. Member for Shipley welcomed his intervention as a public service announcement. There is also an organisation called Breathing Space, which can be contacted in Scotland on 0800 83 85 87.
We know that boys and men also face significant challenges at all stages of education, including in terms of attainment. Further to the health challenges I have mentioned, men also have a significantly shorter life expectancy.
There is still a stigma attached to male victims of violence, particularly domestic and sexual violence. Forced or arranged marriages—this is sometimes seen as a women’s issue—also impact on the men. Fathers who have separated from partners sometimes face significant parental issues, and certainly do not always have it easy. There is also a general, negative portrayal of men and boys.
While women have seemingly borne the brunt of our traditionally male-dominated society, it is important to recognise the ways in which this has hurt men too. Striving towards proper gender equality is not a case of taking power away from men and giving it to women, but rather addressing an imbalance and enhancing the roles that those of all genders and none have in society. This is not just academic; societies that are more equal tend to be happier and healthier. Gender equality is just one piece of the puzzle that needs to be tackled, along with, for example, other prejudice-based inequalities and income inequality. The road to equality takes many steps.
In 2014, the Scottish Government found that 81% of rough sleepers were men. Clearly, this is one issue that should be, and in Scotland has been, acknowledged. In 2012, the Scottish Government passed ground- breaking legislation that requires local authorities to provide every unintentionally homeless person with somewhere to live. The success of this legislation has gone some way towards addressing a major problem that disproportionally affects men. There remains much more to do, however. Each measure undertaken forms part of a wider picture and goes towards helping to address men’s issues.
I do not profess to have all the answers to this very complicated issue, but I do know that we need to work to acknowledge the issues affecting men and redouble our efforts to eliminate the stigma surrounding them. That is the starting point. For real and meaningful equality to be achieved, we must all be involved in this process of change.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) on securing the debate, which has highlighted some of the important issues that men face. I believe in equality. I spoke in the International Women’s Day debate—in fact, I had the pleasure of leading it—so I am being completely equal by turning up for this one today.
It is currently Movember, when brave men are selflessly growing their moustaches to raise awareness of men’s issues. I absolutely salute those people. I have noticed a limited number of those moustaches in the Chamber this year. I hope that this Saturday will make a real difference in raising issues that affect our men, such as male suicide, homelessness and health problems. I am in the Chamber because I was mentored and supported by a man into this role and this job. As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford), mentors are absolutely vital, particularly in primary school.
I am the chair of the all-party women in Parliament group. Last year, over 70 young women from across the country came to take part in a series of events to look at the opportunities for women in having a voice in this place and how that can make a difference. I absolutely believe that we can do the same thing in this debate today. I am glad to have heard all the contributions from Members on both sides of the Chamber.
Why do we need this debate? I am sure that when we came into work this morning we all saw homeless young men on the streets. If they were young women, perhaps with young children, would they go quite so unnoticed? We are all surrounded by men as fathers, grandfathers, brothers, husbands and dads, and we should be concerned about men’s health issues. As we have heard, the suicide rate of men in this country is three times higher than that of women. Sadly, I think we will all know a family friend or a member of our friendship group who has been affected by male suicide. I know one family, in particular, who have lost a son and a husband. That cannot be ignored. Life expectancy for men is too low at 79.
Sadly, obesity and other health-related issues among men are being ignored. One way of dealing with that is by raising such issues in the workplace. Are we offering people a chance to discuss at work issues that they may find more difficult to raise at home? How can we best support men and get them to talk more effectively? Perhaps the workplace is somewhere they feel unsafe, and they do not want to make a fuss or be seen as unmanly. Perhaps they do not want to speak about their feelings about things that are worrying them at home or, indeed, at work.
I think that the armed forces are slightly ahead of society, because everyone who comes back from operational tours is debriefed, and checked for post-traumatic stress disorder and other worrying signs. That is great and we ought to extend that model to people who are at risk in society in general.
I thank my hon. Friend for mentioning that. He is absolutely right. Work can have a huge bearing on family life. Stress from work comes home and some people have no outlet to deal with it. We are not supporting families and society as a whole.
The Samaritans hotline, which has been mentioned, is 116 123, and it provides an invaluable service 24 hours a day. The number now appears on train tickets. We have all had journeys home delayed because someone has been involved in a serious incident and has not made it home to their family that evening. Suicide is the biggest cause of death in men under the age of 50, so I am pleased that the Government have invested £1.5 million in supporting men and women who are at risk of suicide and self-harm.
However, as we have heard, we can do more, including by making the workplace safer. I recently visited a construction site in my constituency and saw posters about keeping sites safe and making sure that people feel safe when they go to work. If someone does not feel safe in the setting that they go to every day, and they feel under pressure because they have to support their family, they can end up in a very difficult and lonely place.
In my past life, I worked for a construction company. On health and safety, we always asked, “Would you like to be the person who phones somebody’s wife or husband to tell them that something has happened at work and they’re not going to return home?” Does the hon. Lady agree that it is important that we look at that area?
Absolutely. Unsafe practices are a burden, particularly if there is no outlet to address them. The issue of health and safety at work can put pressure on men.
On loneliness, men and women, including the elderly, can feel a sense of isolation. I recently visited the Eastleigh Men’s Shed, a project set up in 2014 to bring men together to chat and engage in activities such as carpentry and bike repairing. The projects are brilliant. They make miniature Big Ben clocks, so Members can order some. They are available across Eastleigh, but there are also outlets in Andover, Romsey, Portsmouth, Havant and Bognor Regis. I thank Andi and the team for bringing together men who are perhaps lonely, or have caring responsibilities for loved ones and need support. There are some excellent organisations that help people to feel less isolated.
From our case work, we MPs get to highlight those issues that have been raised with us by men and women. We need a culture shift so that people feel that they can come and talk. Men need to be able to feel comfortable on the school run and at sports days and parents evenings. We must also salute men who are carers. I am often visited at my surgery by people who are worried about their wives or their disabled or autistic children, or those who are struggling to manage with a partner who has dementia or a long-term and chronic illness.
Where appropriate, we need to support our men, including by keeping families and children connected after marital or relationship breakdown. This is a watershed moment. I welcome the debate and the fact that such important issues have been raised in the Chamber. I vow, as a woman, to voice my support in this place regarding issues that affect both genders and all our communities.
Equality, of course, benefits everyone, so I welcome today’s debate and congratulate the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) on bringing it to the House. I am grateful for the work carried out by many people in my constituency and across the country to address the serious issues of inequality faced by men in many areas of their lives.
Men, of course, are a minority of our population. They live shorter lives, experience high levels of homelessness and suicide, and are less likely to seek help for issues relating to mental health and substance abuse. It is important that we seriously address those issues. For example, it is important to recognise the ways in which patriarchy hurts men. Toxic masculinity hurts men as well as women.
I am grateful for the work carried out by my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands), who is in his place and who spoke to The Huffington Post earlier this month for its #BoysDoCry campaign, examining the way many men find it hard even to talk about crying and the pressures on men not to seem vulnerable.
My hon. Friend is making some excellent points. Will she join me in welcoming the launch today of the Be Real campaign’s body image pledge, which encourages industries such as fashion and music, among others, to portray realistic body images? Will she also join me in welcoming the fact that it recognises that body image anxiety is an issue not just for women but for men?
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his timely intervention, especially given today’s release of information about that issue. I support that campaign wholeheartedly. Like the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mims Davies), I was in the Chamber for International Women’s Day, just as I am for International Men’s Day today—although arguably 365 days of the year are international men’s days.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) touched in great detail and with much effect on the issues of suicide, educational attainment and homelessness, as have many other Members from across the Chamber. I seek simply to support all that has been said about that.
In every community in the country, volunteers and organisations are doing a fantastic and valuable job in addressing the issues that affect men. I am talking about organisations such as the Wee County Men’s Shed in my constituency. Men’s sheds have already been mentioned this afternoon. I know that there are plans to establish a similar group in Kinross. I have also had the pleasure of supporting the Man Up group in Hawkhill in Alloa, which is made up of local men who meet in a supportive, welcoming and encouraging environment to discuss issues that are important to them.
For equality to be achieved, we all have to be involved in the process of change—women and men alike. Although it is important to address the problems that men face, we must not attack work done to address institutional bias against women. We are in a situation where society has left us with institutional sexism—it is a matter of fact. There are more male Members of this House right now than there have ever been women Members. We cannot make a better, more equal world by saying that there are no ways in which our institutions hurt men, as that of course is not true, but what hurts men and women alike more than all the issues International Men’s Day exists to fight is the insistence that there is no sexism in society and that work to promote equality is an attack by one gender on another. That is why we need to look at the findings of the Good Parliament report, which addresses the ways that this House can become more inclusive for all.
The Scottish National party Government in Scotland have, since 2014, had a gender-balanced Cabinet and we have taken steps to increase representation, but this is not sexism; this is working on balance, because women face glass ceilings every day of their lives. Let us just say it how it is: there are some things we face equally as men and women in society, but so often women face additional challenges—misogyny, sexism and threats of sexual violence—and there is no level playing field. Men are very well represented in this Chamber, and I am very proud of the SNP’s women’s representation, which increased from one to 20 in last year’s elections; we are 36% women but 100% feminists on these Benches.
As women parliamentarians, we often face “mansplaining” —a term I have spoken of before. It was in evidence again in the exchange between the hon. Member for Shipley and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) when it was suggested that she had not read her brief. Any hon. Member will know that my hon. and learned Friend is perhaps the most briefed person who sits in this Chamber and she should be respected for being so. The volume and variety of farmyard-type noises tends to increase when women are on their feet in this Chamber, as do references to appearances and whether or not we have borne children—these things appear so often in the media.
I welcome the debate today and the thoughtful contributions that have been made so far. Addressing inequality wherever it lies, benefits us all, and we must not be hypocritical in that regard. If we believe in equality, it must be equality for everybody. So I do take issue with the hon. Member for Shipley, who voted consistently against equal gay rights and against laws to promote equality and human rights. I note that today he has watered down his comments from last year somewhat. He said today, “I want to be very clear that I do not believe there is actually an issue between men and women and that people try to be politically correct.” Last year, he said:
“I do not believe there is actually an issue between men and women. Often, problems are stirred up by those who might be described as militant feminists and the politically correct males who sometimes pander to them.”
“One of the most depressing things to happen recently was the introduction of the Select Committee on Women and Equalities.”—[Official Report, 19 November 2015; Vol. 602, c. 242WH.]
What a disservice to this Parliament. As if that was not enough, on Second Reading of the Equality and Diversity (Reform) Bill in 2011, he said:
“It is a massive step towards inequality for men, and the poor souls just let the women walk all over them. They do not appear to care what will happen to them.”—[Official Report, 21 October 2011; Vol. 533, c. 1195.]
At the international conference on men’s issues in 2016, he talked about
“equality but only when it suits”.
In that respect, I say to him, “Right back at you.”
This is an important debate. Respecting rights and equality for all has to be at the top of all that we do in this Chamber. [Interruption.] I am happy to take an intervention, because people are muttering from a sedentary position.
The hon. Lady has stood up and made some interesting points. Does she not accept that every time there is some positive discrimination in favour of a woman, by implication a man is being discriminated against, and it may well be a working-class boy or someone from a working-class background who suffers as a result of positive discrimination in favour of women?
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Although I accept some of the points about discrimination against working-class men, I have to say that coming from those on the Tory Benches, the comment absolutely beggars belief. Those of us who actually believe in equality prefer to use the term “positive action”. The reason why we need positive action is that there is not equality in our society. We are 52% women, but we cannot even be properly represented in this Chamber. I would welcome any efforts that he might wish to make, working with me and with others from the Conservative party and across the Chamber, to achieve gender equality, because gender equality will mean a better society for all.
My hon. Friend is making some excellent points. Does she agree with me—I say this as the youngest male in this place—that men of quality do not fear equality for others?
I welcome another excellent intervention from the youngest male Member of Parliament. Let the youngest male Member of Parliament be an example to us all, to show us that we can indeed fill these Benches with men like my hon. Friend who believe in equality and accept the fact that we do not have a level playing field.
I welcome the fact that many important issues have been discussed in today’s debate, but let us not allow that to overshadow or overtake the very real and accepted work that has to be done in this Chamber and across society to achieve equality for all—equality without hypocrisy—because equality is better for society and for everybody.
It is a pleasure to follow the SNP spokeswoman in this important debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), a fellow Yorkshire MP, on securing this debate in the main Chamber this year. As we have heard, International Men’s Day falls on 19 November, which is Saturday, and one of the themes this year is the high suicide rate among men. The Opposition welcome the opportunity to discuss seriously that issue and all other matters relating to the health and wellbeing of men and boys. We also recognise the opportunity that International Men’s Day presents to examine the societal pressures facing young men, particularly around body image and traditional ideas about masculinity, which can add a burden of expectation to young men and limit the psychological and physical horizons of both men and women.
I will first address the theme of International Men’s Day this year—namely, the high suicide rate among men—and then I will move on to address International Men’s Day in general. Simply put, the rate of suicide among men in this country is far too high. The rate of male suicide is more than three times the rate of female suicide. There are 16.8 male deaths per 100,000, compared with 5.2 female deaths per 100,000. Although it is true that suicide is the most common cause of death in men under the age of 45, the Office for National Statistics found that the highest rate of suicide actually occurs in men between the ages of 45 and 59, at 23.9 deaths per 100,000 according to 2014 figures. This is clearly a complex issue that can affect men of any age.
I am conscious that I may cover similar ground to last year’s debate in Westminster Hall, when male suicide was specified in the motion. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) for her words as the then shadow Minister for mental health. In particular, she emphasised that “suicide is not inevitable.” By paying due attention to the societal and medical factors that can contribute to the increased risk of suicide and by ensuring that proper care is available when such factors arise, we can do much better. Unfortunately, we often fall short. Although we have made great inroads into understanding the various facets of the wider problem—the difficulties young men face with body image, the negative effects of unemployment on mental health, the greater propensity of men to abuse alcohol and drugs and the scale of the suicide epidemic in our prisons—we all too often fail to respond to such situations adequately in the areas of education, work and criminal justice.
Additionally, as my hon. Friend also mentioned in last year’s debate, we now understand that men tend to use more lethal methods in attempting suicide, so early and effective intervention in mental health is crucial. Sadly, the help that people need is often simply not there at the time they need it. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) recently spoke very movingly in the House about the tragedy of losing his nephew to suicide after being told that he would have to wait for up to six months to access a talking therapy. It is a pain recognised by all too many families across this country.
We have found that accident and emergency departments continue to face unprecedented pressures, and we hear that many are now also facing closure. That is felt very acutely in my constituency. A&E is often the place where people find themselves when seeking treatment for a mental health crisis. Waiting times in excess of four hours, longer journeys to the nearest A&E department and a reported lack of mental health nurses all serve to present further barriers to people finding the help they need during a mental health crisis, with sadly predictable consequences.
I welcome the excellent speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North East (Colleen Fletcher), who referred to the “It Takes Balls to Talk” initiative in Coventry. I was fortunate to visit it recently with the Health Committee to hear about some of the fantastic work it is doing. It is true that such factors affect anybody suffering from difficulties with mental health, but the fact that the suicide rate is so much higher among men makes it all the more pressing for men’s health that these issues are tackled—and tackled soon.
I now turn to the issue of International Men’s Day in general. Labour Members welcome the day as an opportunity to highlight and have a serious discussion about the issues facing the wellbeing of men and boys. There are many challenges, such as the continuing battle against health conditions, such as testicular and prostate cancer, where it is recognised that there remains a reticence among some men about visiting a doctor to catch problems early. It is very timely that we should hold this debate in November—or Movember. There are also challenges about the educational attainment of boys in schools and the lack of men teaching, particularly in primary schools, as well as about the recognition of domestic violence towards men, as several hon. Members have said.
We also want to highlight the societal pressures involving body image, gender roles, and sex and relationships. Labour is committed to compulsory, age-appropriate sex and relationships education to promote gender equality, mutual respect and healthy relationships from an early age. This is also about ensuring that young men and women are educated in an atmosphere of mutual respect that broadens their horizons and does not pigeonhole them from the start of life. Although this would be of benefit to both young men and women, it should be noted that such pigeonholing is one of the many gender disparities that still predominantly affect women.
The fact that there are currently more male MPs in the House in this Parliament than the number of female MPs who have ever been elected illustrates that there is still such a long way to go. With regard to respect and healthy relationships, the fact that an average of two women in this country are killed each week by a violent partner or former partner illustrates once again that there is still much further to go.
Does the hon. Lady agree that we are doing men a disservice if we do not address our shortcomings during this debate, given that men still perpetrate about 80% of all domestic violence cases? As we approach the international day for the elimination of violence against women, will she join me in calling on all male MPs to take the White Ribbon pledge
“never to commit, condone, or remain silent about men’s violence against women in all its forms”?
I am happy to join the hon. Gentleman in that pledge. The White Ribbon campaign does some absolutely wonderful work, including in many schools. I am proud to support that initiative.
The continued existence of the gender pay gap, which we recognised in this place only last week, stands as a shameful testament to the inequalities still faced by women, as does the horrendous abuse I received on Twitter and by email for even daring to mention it. The Library tells us that a gender pay gap exists across all sectors of full-time work, some 46 years after the Equal Pay Act 1970.
These are not just issues for women. Organisations such as the White Ribbon campaign and the United Nations HeForShe campaign have capably demonstrated how men not only can but often actively want to play their part in fighting for the safety and equality of women. Indeed, the founder of the latter, Elizabeth Nyamayaro, has said that the campaign started from the mistaken premise that men might not be interested in gender equality, only to later find that the question was merely one of extent. Those positive programmes demonstrate that feminism and equality are not matters of interest to women only.
Although I have congratulated the hon. Member for Shipley on securing the debate, I do not think it would be unreasonable to suggest that he has made something of a name for himself in vociferously standing against feminism. He has gained notoriety in that regard, including by speaking this summer at an event organised by the Justice for Men and Boys party, which garnered media attention. I find that regrettable, as that organisation is sadly—I shall put this charitably—on the less constructive side of the argument.
The most cursory look at that organisation’s website brings a whole new meaning to the word “patronising”. It celebrates articles such as “13 reasons women lie about being raped”, and currently harbours awards including “Lying Feminist of the Month”, “Whiny Feminist of the Month”, “Gormless Feminist of the Month” and “Toxic Feminist of the Month”. As several of my hon. Friends appear to have been added to those lists for simply standing at this Dispatch Box doing what I am doing today, I dare say that I may well be at risk of ending up on one of them myself. Suffice it to say that I am not afraid. The nature of the organisation’s discourse is little better than that of the Twitter trolls who constantly confront female Members just for daring to speak up. I find the hon. Gentleman’s association with that organisation most regrettable.
I mention that not to detract from the issues raised today, but to highlight the fact that this event does not exist in a vacuum. Thanks to such rhetoric, there is a charged and poisonous atmosphere surrounding these issues, and I fear that many people will see International Men’s Day not as standing alongside International Women’s Day but as standing in opposition to it. We must send a message from this House that that is a false dichotomy that creates division where none need exist.
Many hon. Members have said this before me, but it is important to emphasise that equality is not a zero-sum game. The rise of feminism does not mean that men have been in some way denigrated or disfranchised. I hope that we all recognise that work remains to be done for both men and women, but that an improvement in the lot of one does not inherently detract from the rights of the other. In short, we should have no truck with those who would use this event to further divide us. I cannot say it better than the International Men’s Day website itself, which lists as two of its objectives:
“To improve gender relations and promote gender equality… To create a safer, better world; where people can be safe and grow to reach their full potential.”
In those objectives, it has our full support.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) on securing this really important debate. I know that he, I and all the other Members who have taken part and spoken so excellently share the same conviction: that no one, whether male or female, should suffer unfair or unequal treatment because of their gender.
Such treatment can have devastating consequences for the lives of both men and women. Like other parents of sons up and down the country, I am aware of the challenges that boys face as they negotiate the road to manhood. We are at a moment in time when increasing numbers of people—men and women—are questioning a system of laws, norms and beliefs that have systematically disadvantaged women over centuries. But we sometimes forget that confining women within social norms also acts to confine men. Every restriction placed on the lives of women has had a consequence for the lives of men. Where women are told they are weak, men are told that they have to be strong and that there is something very wrong with them if they experience fear, vulnerability or emotion. Where women are told that they are naturally suited to childcare, then men are implicitly told that they are not. Where women are encouraged to be the homemakers, then the pressure falls on men to be the breadwinners.
The fact that men suffer from sexism is not a sign that the fight for equality has gone too far, but that it has not gone far enough. Gender equality is not, as the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) said, a zero-sum game where the gains of one sex can only be achieved at the expense of the other. Equality is good for all and for society as a whole. That does mean that people do sometimes have to give up privileges that have not been earned, but they have much, much more to gain from the creation of a fairer society for all.
I am not Minister for Women and Equalities because I am partisan to women, but because the key task in achieving gender equality is to establish a level playing field for women. That does not mean that we neglect the interests of men. I hope all here will agree that the introduction of shared parental leave was a huge step forward in supporting men to become more involved and fulfilled fathers. Our pioneering programme on homophobic bullying in schools benefits not just children who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, but all boys who have been insulted or assaulted because they were considered not sporty or manly enough.
Our innovative work programme on body image recognises that boys too can feel overwhelmed by cultural messages about how they are supposed to look and behave. I am as concerned as anyone when men’s eating disorders are referred to as “manorexia”, as that does not describe the severity and seriousness of the issue. Our new teen relationship abuse campaign, Disrespect NoBody, reaches out to all young people, deliberately moving away from images and text that imply that men are always the perpetrators of relationship abuse and women always the victims. We know that that simply is not the case.
I want to say a bit more about violence. I am hugely proud of the Government’s national strategy on violence against women and girls. We have made great strides, but there is a long way to go, particularly in tackling sexual harassment in public spaces and online misogyny. As my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley rightly pointed out, violence features in boys’ lives, too. As my son moves through his teenage years, I am acutely aware of how vulnerable young men are to assault on the streets and in pubs and clubs. I can only guess at how much fear and anxiety this causes boys and men. I say “guess”, because we very rarely hear men talking about those feelings. Why? Because of social norms that suggest that men should be powerful and invulnerable.
There is the expectation that men should not show how much violence hurts or scares them. They keep it bottled up. Even worse, they express it through depression, drinking or aggression. Maybe it makes it harder for them to stand up to other men who may be harassing women or belittling other men, and say, “This is not okay.” As my hon. Friend pointed out, many of the dreadful things that are happening to women are happening to men, too. Just because statistically there are much lower numbers does not mean they are any less important or should not be talked about. It does not mean that victims’ lives are any less valued.
I have sat here for most of the debate—I missed just the first two minutes—but I have not heard anyone talk about the strength that men and women get from being in a family, whether unmarried or married. Living with other people is a huge benefit. I just wanted to put it on record that family matters.
Of course, family does matter. What also matters is that victims can be male or female. In some instances, men are the hidden victims. Earlier this year, during International Women’s Day, the whole House listened in stunned and horrified silence as one of the hon. Members listed the names of every single woman who had been killed at the hands of a violent partner or ex-partner. There were 81 of them—every single life lost an absolute tragedy. In the same year, 19 men suffered that same fate. No one read their names out. That is not okay.
The UK has made a £36 million commitment towards efforts to end child marriage, early marriage and forced marriage overseas. As the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) point out, while the majority of those affected by child marriage are girls, UNICEF estimates that 18% of those married under the age of 18 are boys. That is not okay.
Crime surveys for England and Wales estimate that there were 610,000 male victims of domestic violence last year. I say “estimate” because, like many women, men are often reluctant to come forward and report crimes of this nature. And that is not okay. We continue to support front-line organisations working with male victims. The Home Office has extended £120,000 until April 2017 for the men’s advice line, which provides support and advice to male victims of domestic violence; while £90,000 has been provided to Galop to run a domestic abuse helpline for gay, bi and trans people affected by domestic violence and abuse. In 2016-17, the Ministry of Justice allocated £452,000 to 12 organisations in England and Wales to provide face-to-face services for male victims of rape and sexual violence.
Every time a little boy is told to zip up his man suit and be brave in circumstances where a girl would be cuddled or comforted, we are contributing to an ideal that a real man is fearless and emotionless. Most men treat this version of masculinity, which they see in characters in the media such as James Bond and those played by Steven Seagal, who are self-contained, aggressive, disconnected and always walking alone, with intelligence and resilience, but there are risks, particularly for the vulnerable and isolated, and these messages can be particularly toxic for men suffering from mental health issues.
We have heard a lot today about male suicide. Our national suicide prevention strategy highlights men as a high-risk group for what is perhaps the ultimate expression of despair, disconnection and aggression turned inwards. I am very encouraged by the work that the Department of Health has done with the National Suicide Prevention Alliance to identify innovative projects and to target mental wellbeing and suicide prevention support at men—projects such as the Men’s Sheds movement, which my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mims Davies) has mentioned. I was there at the start of the Gosport Men’s Shed, which is now one of the biggest in the country. One gentleman there told me that it had literally saved his life.
In addition, the Department recently announced further financial support of more than £12.5 million over the next five years for the Time to Change programme, which seeks to bring attitudinal change towards people with mental health issues. Bottling up emotions and not being able to talk freely about feelings have implications not only for mental health but for physical health. Other Members have spoken about organisations such as the Movember Foundation and all the amazing men—and women—who attempt to grow moustaches in November, in order to raise issues such as prostate cancer that affect men and where early diagnosis and treatment can save lives.
I was going to speak about boys’ attainment in schools and justice in the family and criminal courts, but, in the interests of time, I will not. I will conclude by saying that my officials and the Government Equalities Office are there to tackle inequality wherever we find it, and we are actively exploring some of the issues touched upon today, in dialogue with groups such as White Ribbon, the Great Men initiative, HeForShe and Respect. These organisations do an enormous amount of good work, and I am confident that together we will make good progress in engaging even more men with gender equality.
And what of International Men’s Day? Of course it is a good thing. Anything that gets people to stop and think about equality and the inequalities we have spoken about today is important, and I will certainly consider all the points raised. Equality benefits everyone, and I hope that we can continue to share a constructive dialogue on how we can achieve a fairer, more just and kinder world for all.
I thank everyone who has participated in this debate. We have heard some fantastic speeches. The hon. Member for Coventry North East (Colleen Fletcher) made a fantastic speech. I was very interested and pleased to hear about the excellent work of It Takes Balls to Talk. My hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) made a typically fantastic speech, even though he had to admit that Australia was ahead of us in some ways. I am sure it was a painful thing for him to have to admit, but we are grateful to him for pointing it out.
The hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) made a terrific speech highlighting the work that Breathing Space does in her area. I am delighted that she has had the opportunity to mention that. Likewise, my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mims Davies) made a passionate and impressive speech, and again I am delighted that she was able to highlight Men’s Sheds and Movember, even though I will not be participating in the latter—much to everyone’s relief.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Ms Ahmed-Sheikh) rather trivialised today’s debate by talking about women instead of men. I am sure the fact that she thinks international men’s day is every day is very little comfort to the 134,554 men who have committed suicide over the last 30 years. I found that regrettable.
Finally, I am pleased that we agreed on one thing—equality. I believe in gender equality, and I very much hope that after this debate, men and women will be treated equally by the courts when they get sentenced.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).