I beg to move,
That this House has considered International Men’s Day.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I start by thanking the many colleagues from all parties in the House who supported the application for this debate, and the Backbench Business Committee for finding the time for it as close to International Men’s Day as possible.
I am sorry that the debate is not in the main Chamber and that we have been put back into Westminster Hall, but that is certainly not the fault of the Backbench Business Committee, which tried to make it happen in the main Chamber. The debate was actually allocated time in the main Chamber, but unfortunately the Government did not allocate the time for the Backbench Business Committee to hold it. I certainly do not blame the Backbench Business Committee; I am actually very grateful to it for finding an alternative date, namely today.
I also thank once again all the many people who have been in touch with me to tell me their story or to put forward their organisation’s point of view. I am very grateful to them all for taking the time.
International Men’s Day was actually on 19 November, and for most people I should imagine that it was a case of blinking and missing it. That is why I feel that this debate is important. International Men’s Day does not receive anything like the coverage that International Women’s Day does. As I have said in previous debates, the aims of International Men’s Day are admirable. Its objectives are:
“To promote positive male role models…To celebrate men’s positive contributions…To focus on men’s health and wellbeing…To highlight discrimination against men”—
that includes highlighting the inequalities that men and boys face—
“To improve gender relations and promote gender equality”
“To create a safer, better world”
for everyone. It is worth reiterating those aims, as they provide a focus for what International Men’s Day is trying to achieve.
There is so much that I could say today that it is very hard to know where to start. As I have said before, there are many areas where I think the plight of men is ignored or minimised, and many areas where men are certainly treated differently from women. I will concentrate on the things that I feel need to be pointed out, which others will perhaps not mention today. That way, we can ensure that we cover a wide range of subjects in the debate.
I start with the issue of domestic violence. I will keep mentioning the unrecognised male victims of domestic violence in this type of debate, especially as the issue can—tragically—sometimes lead to suicide, which, as has been said during these debates many times, disproportionately affects men.
One message I have received that links these things together was from someone who said they had been suicidal in the past. They wrote to me and said:
“Thank you so very much for all that you have done for equality by calling attention to Men’s rights issues. I have only recently…discovered the men’s rights campaign after seeing a 2011 episode of the US Talk show, ‘The Talk’, in which a majority female panel and audience mercilessly jested at the idea of a brutally violent sex crime in the news, purely because it had been committed against a man.
To see how that, and other things, was acceptable made me want to give up.
Earlier this year I was suicidal. I’ve contemplated it several times before, but have never come so close.
Without exaggeration of ego, I can tell you that you have saved my life.”
An episode of “The Jeremy Kyle Show”, which was along the same lines as the TV show that I have just mentioned, was recently brought to my attention. A woman was explaining that her partner had gone to the bathroom and she discovered that he was cheating on her. She said that when he came out of the bathroom, she hit him in the face. The audience laughed, then clapped and then whooped with delight. That is the reaction of the public to domestic violence against a man. If attitudes need to change, then it is these attitudes that should be at the top of the list. Can people imagine what the reaction would have been if that had been a man admitting to hitting a woman in the face?
Yet that was not an isolated incident. There are many examples of these attitudes to male victims of domestic violence, which to me is like everyday sexism towards men. The crime survey conducted by the Office for National Statistics showed that in the year ending March 2017 more women than men thought it was acceptable to hit or slap a partner if they had been having an affair or cheated. That paints an uncomfortable picture for those who want to portray domestic violence as purely a male problem. Is it any wonder that men are less likely to come forward to be counted and report abuse, especially if that is the social reaction to such violence?
One man who contacted me said:
“My mental ill health started affecting me as far back as 2010 when I was in a relationship with an abusive ex-girlfriend. I was frequently hit, had my bank account drained of money and was often locked in a bedroom with no way of getting out. I got out of the relationship, but it did have a dramatic effect on my own mental health and wellbeing.”
Later on, he was assisted by the Richmond Fellowship, which I believe is a national mental health charity, and he actually ended up working for it. He says:
“Without the support of Richmond Fellowship and Cambridge 105 Radio, I wouldn’t be here now sharing this story.”
This is just one example of a man suffering domestic abuse. On the positive side, it also shows that there are people and organisations out there that can and do help.
Nothing highlights more starkly the apparent lack of concern for male victims of domestic abuse than the Equal Treatment Bench Book, which is used in the courts—by magistrates, for example. It should be renamed, given that its section on domestic abuse has nothing “equal” about it at all. It refers to the number of women killed each week by a current or former partner, without making any mention at all of the men murdered or abused by their current or former partners. It also says:
“There are a number of significant reasons why women do not leave dangerous partners, including safety”.
What about men? That is a Ministry of Justice publication, for goodness’ sake. I fail to see how publications such as this help magistrates to abide by their sworn oath that they will
“do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of this realm, without fear or favour, affection or ill will.”
Interestingly, within further breakdowns of domestic abuse figures there are some noteworthy facts that an Equal Treatment Bench Book should perhaps have taken into consideration. For example, according to the crime survey by the ONS for the year ending March 2017, the number of black African men who have suffered domestic abuse is more than double the number of black African women who have suffered such abuse, at a rate of 8.7 per 100 for such men compared with 4.2 per 100 for such women. In the white Irish category, men are four and a half times more likely to be victims of domestic abuse than women, at a rate of 8.2 per 100 of the population for such men compared with 1.8 for such women. There is so much more that could be said about the Equal Treatment Bench Book, but I will resist the temptation to go down that route today.
I move on to the issue of women and men in prison. I have covered this problem in the justice system on many occasions and highlighted the clear bias in favour of women at every stage, yet there are still people who do not want to see any women at all being sent to prison. Setting aside the fact that it is very hard for a woman actually to get sent to prison in the first place, those so-called equality supporters are just showing their true colours. It would almost be easy to confine their comments to the loony bin of thinking if it was not for the unbelievable fact that the Ministry of Justice appears somehow to have been hypnotised by these idiotic suggestions.
The Government’s recently launched strategy on female offenders is completely wrong-headed. One of the justifications for its lily-livered approach to female offenders was said to be that female prisoners were often victims of domestic violence. Having recently tabled parliamentary questions, I can confirm something that people might not expect: there are two and a half times more men than women in prison who have suffered domestic abuse. That is the fact of the matter. In the latest figures, which relate to 30 June 2017, the Ministry of Justice says that 1,626 female prisoners had been the victim of domestic abuse. On the same day, there were 4,146 male prisoners in the same position. Again, that might be an inconvenient truth to the Ministry of Justice, but it is the reality, based on the Ministry’s own statistics.
In another irony, the same parliamentary questions revealed that nearly one in five female prisoners—18%—is a perpetrator of domestic violence. You couldn’t make it up: the Ministry of Justice’s strategy is based in part on women being the victims of domestic abuse, yet the beneficiaries of the policy could well have committed domestic abuse themselves.
All these noises about female offenders, saying how a different approach is needed to deal with women, are supposed to be in the name of equality, but nothing could be further from the truth. It is one of the most blatantly sexist, discriminatory things that is happening under our very noses. I should say, before the Ministry of Justice suggest it, that the solution is not letting out male prisoners and rehabilitating them in the community as well, to make it a level playing field. All those people are criminals, and the solution is to make sure that we keep them in prison.
I also want to touch on male circumcision: male genital mutilation. According to a barrister’s opinion, carrying out circumcision on males when there is no medical need—non-therapeutic circumcision—is a crime under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, being at least actual bodily harm if not grievous bodily harm. In 1983, Lord Hailsham, the then Lord Chancellor, said of female genital mutilation:
“in the case of a minor under the age of 16, there is no possibility that consent is any defence at all. A minor under the age of 16 is not able to consent to the commission upon her of a criminal assault. Neither parental consent nor the consent of the minor would be any defence at all, and if the parents did such a thing, or instigated such a thing or participated in such a thing, it would only render them liable to criminal penalties, too.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 21 April 1983; Vol. 441, c. 677.]
When I put it to the Government in 2016 that female genital mutilation was already illegal before specific laws on the subject were introduced, they agreed that it was. When I then put to them the position regarding boys, they took a different line. They quoted Sir James Munby, who was the president of the Family Division of the High Court, in a case of January 2015:
“Whereas it can never be reasonable parenting to inflict any form of FGM on a child, the position is quite different with male circumcision. Society and the law, including family law, are prepared to tolerate non-therapeutic male circumcision performed for religious or even for purely cultural or conventional reasons, while no longer being willing to tolerate FGM in any of its forms.”
As the former barrister who I mentioned earlier also said, it would require a parliamentary override for male circumcision to be legal, and that has never existed. No exemptions to the law of the land are permissible for religious or cultural reasons.
The Ministry of Justice went on to say that there was no doubt that female genital mutilation could have a physical and psychological impact on women, and also said that some girls die as a result of the procedure, which is absolutely correct. I do not pretend to be an expert in this field, but I believe that boys have also been reported to have died following a circumcision, and I have seen accounts of the physical and psychological impact of circumcision on men.
I understand that the position of the NHS is that the risks associated with routine circumcision, such as infection and excessive bleeding, outweigh any potential benefits. I am mentioning all this because I believe it should be on the record, not least because of the very different approaches to male and female genital mutilation. The Government said back in 2016 that they had no current plans to change the law in relation to male circumcision. Given everything I have said, there may be no need to change the law to bring about a change in male circumcisions. However, I would be particularly interested to hear from the Minister on that point.
I also want to touch on parental alienation. Men are clearly disadvantaged when it comes to family breakdowns and how children are allocated after those breakdowns. Women are more likely to get custody of the children and, as has been noted on many occasions, men really do draw the short straw in these instances. Parental alienation is a topic that requires much more time than can be given to it today, but I want to put on record how concerned I am about what is a growing problem in this country. For those not familiar with parental alienation, it is what it sounds like: parents being alienated from their children, usually by the other parent, to the detriment of that parent and the children. In my view, it is a form of child abuse. It can happen for all kinds of reasons, and in some cases it is clearly right that parents are kept away from their children—for example, when there are genuine safety concerns. However, parents—when I say “parents”, it is usually men, in reality—are being kept from their children without justification.
One solution is more use of child contact centres. I recently visited Bingley contact centre in my constituency, which is run out of Bingley Baptist church. It is one of the centres under the umbrella of the National Association of Child Contact Centres, which says that more than 1 million children have no contact whatever with one parent or another after separation. I want to place on record my thanks to everybody who works at the Bingley contact centre. They are all volunteers, and they give up their time week in, week out to make sure that parents get to see their children and—just as importantly, if not more importantly—that those children get to see their parents. It is fantastic to see the reaction of the children when they see the parent who has previously been alienated from them. These centres are meant to be a temporary solution, and they work to give—mainly—fathers the chance to get back into their children’s lives. There is a waiting list for that service in Bingley, and no doubt in other places around the country. That is a shame, as the more fathers who can see their children, the better.
I mentioned everyday sexism against men earlier in relation to domestic violence, but there are plenty more cases that need to be challenged. People may recall the absolute hoo-hah over the Presidents Club charity event. That men-only event was derided because the hostesses were asked to wear certain clothes, and a lap dance was given as a prize. I am sure we remember that all hell broke loose when that event was reported. Even the millions raised for good causes, including Great Ormond Street Hospital, were under threat of being returned in disgust.
Fast-forward a few months, and the Daily Mail featured an article about 11 old ladies who invited their daughters and granddaughters to their nursing home for a performance by Hunks in Trunks, complete with numerous pictures of male dancers in the buff, with no trunks in sight. That was of course hilarious, and not seedy at all: women ogling men, women touching men—and those men had far fewer clothes on than the women who were at the Dorchester hotel for that charity dinner, I can assure you, Mr Bailey.
If that had been a bunch of male pensioners doing that with women with no clothes on, apart from a scrap of material, I am pretty sure that the reaction in the newspapers would have been very different. The papers certainly would not have been reporting the story in such a glib fashion. I accept that the events are not totally comparable, but there are plenty of other, similar examples of how we treat men and women differently. Adverts that apparently objectify women do not, it seems, do the same for men.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman almost admitted at the end of his remarks that the two situations are not comparable. Does he not see the difference between essentially forcing women to look and dress a certain way as part of their job to please men, and a person having a job where they take their clothes off for a living?
I see the hon. Lady’s point, and I absolutely accept it. I just hope that when the papers report a similar event in reverse, she will say, “Well, that is absolutely fine.” I do not think the reports would have been the same if male pensioners had been doing to women what those female pensioners were doing to men, but if the hon. Lady is saying that she would treat both exactly the same, that is fine; that is all I ask in this particular instance. I just doubt that that would have been the general reaction.
To show how ridiculous these things are, I was recently accused of sexism, and I could not for the life of me think what the lady who complained was talking about until she explained. I had sent her an email in response to her message to me following the mass misreporting that I had blocked the Bill to deal with upskirting, when, in fact, as the Speaker confirmed afterwards, I had done nothing of the sort. I said I was
“sorry people just act like a herd without knowing the facts.”
She tweeted that I had sent her a sexist message. I was dumbfounded because I could not work out what on earth was sexist about that line. When I inquired, she sent me an email back saying that by referring to the words “people” and “herd” it sounded as though I was referring to women as cows. That is how ridiculous the situation has got. You literally could not make it up.
Then we have the pay gap, which is reported in such a way as to be sexist against men. Although the whole thing is a nonsense from start to finish—I suspect most people who complain about the pay gap have not got even the first idea how it is calculated—it seems that a pay gap against women is totally unacceptable and yet a pay gap against men is apparently a good thing—at least, it seems to be, according to organisations such as the Parliamentary Digital Service. On Parliament’s own website, on the release of its figures, it states:
“In the Parliamentary Digital Service...the mean pay gap was -5.21%. The median pay gap was revealed to be -4.16%. This negative gap”—
the fact that men are paid less than women on average in that department—
“illustrates that women have a pay lead in terms of both mean and median hourly pay over men.”
The director of the Parliamentary Digital Service said:
“I am delighted that this first set of gender pay data is so encouraging for women in our organisation and I am proud to lead an organisation which is committed to ensuring equality and diversity in staff, including gender equality.”
So it seems the politically correct belief is that a pay gap is OK if it is against men. That cannot be right. We surely should not want a pay gap at all. Any pay gap must be wrong. We have a part-time pay gap in the UK that has persistently favoured women over men. I never hear anybody complaining about the part-time pay gap in this country, but we have to treat these things equally. If a pay gap is wrong, it is wrong. One cannot be right and one wrong. We can all agree with that.
This is one of the myths that has taken on an untouchable status as evidence of discrimination against women, when it is nothing of the kind, particularly given that the pay gap is not about paying someone less for the same job, which is already illegal. I wish that normally intelligent people would grasp that and do more to expose this issue for the sham that it is.
Yet again there are many more issues that I would like to cover today, but I do not have time. We have blatant discrimination against men in businesses, organisations and politics, where we are hellbent on having more women. No care is given to how that is achieved, so we now have positive discrimination, which is, as it says, discrimination. People think, not without justification, that women have been discriminated against in the past, but rather than thinking the solution is to remove that discrimination, it seems their agenda is to try to reverse it and say, “We want you to be discriminated against in the way that we were for all those years.” That kind of revenge tactic is what positive discrimination is. [Laughter.] The hon. Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) laughs, but women-only shortlists, which she may have been a beneficiary of, discriminate against men. She thinks it is funny, but the people of Blaenau Gwent did not think it was funny when Labour lost one of its safest seats in 2005 simply because it had imposed a women-only shortlist and denied a good local man with impeccable local credentials the chance of standing. He stood as an independent and won the seat, which had been one of Labour’s safest seats in the country. That indicates the hon. Lady is probably slightly out of touch with working-class Labour votes around the country.
What amuses me is how out of touch the hon. Gentleman is when he talks about the hoo-hah over girls as young as 18 years old being forced to wear short skirts and high heels to serve men. He talks about the “untouchable status” of women when we try to get some balance and equality into the system. Without all-women shortlists, this House would not be as diverse as it is, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman has taken offence at.
I do not really want to get into women-only shortlists, apart from saying that they clearly discriminate against men. There are only two possible reasons to have a women-only shortlist: either the women standing are not as good as the men and therefore need positive discrimination to help them, or the Labour party selection committee is so sexist it would choose a worse man than a better woman. If the hon. Lady believes the Labour party is stuffed with sexists who would choose a worse man than a better woman, I will not disagree with her, but it is hardly a ringing endorsement of people running the Labour party up and down the country. I will not even go on to the barmy idea that our stretched police forces should now extend the list of hate incidents—not even hate crimes—that they spend time on to cover misogyny and maybe misandry, but, in all likelihood, just misogyny.
I hope that the issues I have covered are different from those that others will speak about in this debate. I think the world really has gone mad at times, which is why I am glad that we can have these debates to discuss the variety of issues affecting men. As I have said before, nothing I say on this subject should be controversial in a normal world, yet people who have read or seen things about me might get the impression that I have somehow been unbelievably controversial in simply asking for men to be treated exactly the same as women. It is apparently sexist to ask that men are treated the same as women, but I do not think it is.
Finally, one clear message that I would like to go out today is that men should not feel alone. Whatever their problem, there are people out there who can see their point of view and can help. We politicians are not all blind to the problems that men face, and I hope that men feel reassured that they have a voice in Parliament on all issues and not just those that fit certain politically correct agendas. Also, the vast majority of women out there agree with common sense rather than the politically correct dogma that many people in this House give them as they claim to represent their interests. Together I hope we can make this country a better place for men and women, so they can live together equally happily, being treated the same and not differently simply because of their gender.
Before I call the next speaker, may I make it clear that I want to call the Front-Bench spokesperson at 4 o’clock? You can do the arithmetic as well as I can. If all speakers on the Back Benches take that into consideration, I will be grateful.
I am afraid my arithmetic is not as good as yours, Mr Bailey, but I have a fairly short speech. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I would like to have said it is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), and it is good to know that his sense of grievance is alive and kicking.
I know International Men’s Day was earlier this month, but we are debating it today. According to its UK website, the day
“provides a fantastic opportunity...to...Highlight some serious issues affecting men and boys and their wellbeing...Make a difference to men and boys’ lives....Celebrate...men and boys in all their diversity...Have some serious fun”.
The day is overseen by six volunteers who are involved in a range of British charities and academia, and all of us should be grateful to them for the hard work that has gone into the day.
I want to start by highlighting one of the serious issues affecting boys and men: mental health and wellbeing. There have been many suicides within my constituency of Motherwell and Wishaw in the past year. As a community we felt helpless, frustrated and confused, and have looked for someone to blame. In our communities the trauma has had a ripple effect, which is still going on. Many departments and agencies have supported our communities and I want to take this opportunity to say thank you. I should say that all the suicides were of young men.
I know from meetings with Chris’s House, Families and Friends against Murder and Suicide, the Scottish Association for Mental Health and North Lanarkshire Council’s suicide prevention team that much proactive work is already being carried out on suicide. The big question that remains unanswered is why so many people, especially young men, choose to end their lives. Unfortunately it is in the nature of suicide that many questions remain unanswered. Deprivation, life traumas and mental illness can be key factors, but not everyone is known to agencies before attempting or completing suicide. Men aged 34 to 54 are more likely to complete suicide, and that may often be due to men being less likely to talk about their feelings and mental health. The age group in question is most likely to suffer relationship breakdowns resulting in decreased income, child maintenance payments or turning to drugs or alcohol, which can lead to the stigma of unemployment or homelessness.
The players of Scottish premiership football club Motherwell wear suicide prevention logos on their shirts. Players have made a video to encourage men to open up and talk about their feelings. Suicide prevention helpline numbers are displayed throughout the stadium. MPs need to speak openly about the issues and encourage our constituents to do the same. All my staff have had “safe talk” training, so as to be able to spot the indicators, encourage difficult conversations and signpost for help. Those interventions can save lives. In Scotland one in 10 people at any time is having suicidal thoughts. Thankfully the majority do not act on them, and many seek help. The Scottish Government have poured money into suicide prevention. We are all concerned for our communities and should be suicide-alert.
Contrary to what the hon. Member for Shipley suggested, I am going to talk about domestic abuse, which knows no boundaries of gender, culture, class, age, sexual orientation, ethnicity or belief. It continues increasingly to affect people in LGBTI+ relationships, members of ethnic minority groups and men. It remains under-recognised, under-acknowledged and under-funded in the communities in question. In my constituency I work with Sacro and Fearless, both of which have received lottery funding. Fearless reaches out to those people who are less inclined to seek access to domestic abuse services. It offers practical support in getting access to a range of supports including housing and health services, and support appropriate to inclusion with someone’s community. Fearless recognises that men too are increasingly victims and survivors of domestic abuse. I thank Nikki Beardsmore and her team for their work in that area.
Male role models are important to young men and boys, and not everyone is as lucky as my two sons were. It was the greatest tribute that my younger son could give his father when he said that his dad’s legacy was the way he brought up his three children, and that he wanted to do the same with his family. Role models are what boys who do not have good dads need. That is why it is important that men in public life—especially first-class sportsmen—take cognisance of the fact that young men and boys adulate and mimic their behaviours. My father was a typical Scot who did not share his feelings and who harboured suicidal thoughts as a result of his war experiences. It affected his entire life thereafter and he only once talked about his service. We need to break away from that stereotypical male buttoned-up approach to mental health and emotions. Men need to be more like women.
Last Saturday I hosted an evening with some girlfriends. We met at 6 and were still talking at 11.30 when male drivers arrived to pick up their partners. We discussed our health, children and experiences of work. I of course do not have a proper job. I am something of an object of curiosity to those friends, who have known me a long time. They find my status as MP quite puzzling. My point is that we talked and shared experiences. I got a lot out of the evening and I hope my friends did too. I know that that close circle will help to sustain me through difficult times. For International Men’s Day I hope that many men will change the habit of a lifetime, open up to those close to them and enjoy what women have known for centuries—the fact that a problem shared is a problem halved.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. It is also a great pleasure to speak in this debate, whose equivalent I had the honour of leading last year. My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) spoke then, and I am grateful for his remarks today, and for those of the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows). I entirely agree with her that it is extremely important to have a circle of friends such as she described. I recall a time when I was in business, living overseas, and the business was going through a particularly difficult time. The opportunity to share that not just with my wife but with friends was hugely important. Having that ability is important for people who are under the weight of difficulties such as potentially having to make people redundant, and who cannot see a particular way out.
I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley said about the many different areas in which we need equality. For reasons of time I shall not dwell on the issues that have already been covered. Suffice to say that male suicide is an incredibly important issue for us to address. One might say it is a public health issue, but it is more than that. It is a personal issue affecting families throughout the country. It affects children, parents and circles of friends.
I am going to concentrate on the international aspect of International Men’s Day. I had the privilege of visiting the refugee camp at Calais in January and I saw some of the young people, who are almost—not entirely—exclusively young men. They had made their way up to Calais in the hope of reaching the United Kingdom. I spoke to one or two of them and, interestingly, although one would think most would have come from the middle east because of the conflict there, most actually came from countries such as Ethiopia, Eritrea and Nigeria. What struck me—and it is something I have been passionate about for most of my working life, including in this place—was the need for jobs and livelihoods, which applies to everyone, men and women. We are fortunate to have a relatively low unemployment level in this country, even among young people, although it is still too high. I was in Kosovo a couple of months ago to discuss with its Government ways they could tackle their youth unemployment figure. There—in a European country—60% of young people have no job. I am convinced that one of the greatest challenges facing the world at the moment is ensuring that young men and women around the world have the chance of a job or livelihood.
That is why, together with others, I have tried to form a global coalition for youth employment. I was speaking with the secretary-general of the Commonwealth, Baroness Scotland, about that very issue just a week ago. She is passionate about it. It is not just a question of economic development and the creation of jobs—important though that is; it goes right back to education in primary and secondary schools, and to ensuring that boys and girls have the education and training in life skills to enable them to get work and have a livelihood in the future. That applies to both boys and girls, and to young men and women. However, I would say that because so much of young men’s identity is invested in their work as well as their family, it absolutely vital for them.
I want to challenge not just our Government and our country but global organisations and national Governments across the world to take this issue seriously. Some of them are, but unfortunately an awful lot are not—they are perhaps concentrating on the needs of the better-off in their country. They are listening to the people with the loudest voices, not to the young men and women who absolutely need jobs and livelihoods for their future.
I shall give just a few examples of what can be done. I have already mentioned education. As we have heard, there needs to be much more mentoring so that people with experience, skills and compassion can talk to young men and women about their future, and feel that they are being listened to. That needs funding—I do not mean lots of grants giving out money with little accountability; I am talking about loans. The small business loan scheme, for instance, has been a great success in helping young men and women set up their own businesses in this country, but around the world young men and women do not have access to that kind of capital. I declare a personal interest in that, having been involved for a number of years in setting up a social enterprise in leasing in east Africa. We see young men and women entering work, whereas previously they were not able to.
Let us not beat around the bush: in this country, often it is young men who want to acquire practical skills. Young women do as well, but it is more often young men, particularly at the age of 16. We sometimes find that training and practical skills are not available to them because there is greater emphasis on the academic route, and that is the case not just in this country but around the world. I have seen some excellent programmes, supported by the Department for International Development in places such as Nepal and Nigeria, where there have been opportunities for young men and women to pick up those practical skills. There needs to be much more of that—the idea of training in these skills is often lost in the drive for university education and academic education, because everybody sees that as the way forward.
I want to celebrate International Men’s Day and the role that young men and boys—as well as young women and girls—play in this country, but let us also remember that we need to address this internationally and encourage countries across the world to celebrate this day and the role that equality for boys, girls, young men and young women can play in their development.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I commend the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) for securing the debate. He has raised many issues, each of which is probably worthy of long debate. It is difficult in a debate like this one, which is quite short, to have the conversations that we really want to have.
I am feminist, and I have two sons. They have brought issues to me while growing up, and we have always talked about equality. We are going back a generation—my sons are in their early 40s. I remember one coming home from school and saying to me, “It’s not fair—the girls have a special room where they can go at lunchtime, and boys don’t have one.” Girls who had their period or were not feeling well were allowed to go to that room and have some quiet time, which I tried to explain to my sons. Should schoolchildren—whether boys or girls—not feel well, they should have a room where they can sit down quietly. That is just sensible.
We have to be careful about our language and ensure that people who have an audience, such as those in the media, think about what they are saying. Another issue was picked up just last year. My son and I were listening to the radio—something was going on in Coventry—and the presenter commented on some men’s “wonderful six-packs”. My son was appalled and said, “What if that was a man on there, talking about what big breasts someone had?” We have to be careful about the language that we use, especially in the media and in newspapers, although we cannot often control what happens there, and people will always read what they want to.
International Men’s Day is designed to highlight some extremely important issues—none more so than men’s mental health and tackling male suicide. I want to focus on those issues, and this debate gives me the opportunity to do so. I will always take the opportunity to talk about it.
Last year, suicide rates among men in the UK were at their lowest for more than 30 years. While that is, of course, extremely encouraging, we must not overlook the underlying statistics, which show that there were 5,821 suicides in the UK last year. Of those, 4,383 were male suicides, which means that more than three quarters of people who took their own lives were men—the rate was 15.5 suicides per 100,000 men. One such death is one too many. Those statistics lay bare the scale of the crisis in men’s mental health, and they also highlight how essential it is for us to continue to target expertise and resources at understanding the causes of male suicide and trying to prevent it.
Why is suicide such a highly gendered occurrence? We know that mental health issues can affect anyone and are caused by a number of factors, including bereavement, unemployment, finance and debt issues, family and relationship problems—as has been said already—social isolation, low self-esteem, drug and alcohol issues, and many other personal factors. It is not that men are necessarily more susceptible to these mental health triggers; societal expectations have shaped men’s behaviour in how they deal with—or, more accurately, how they fail to deal with—their emotions, feelings and wellbeing when confronted by them.
The malign influence of masculine conditioning—it shapes the way men are brought up to behave and the roles, traits and behaviours that society expects of them—demands that rather than talk about their emotions and how they feel in times of difficulty or crisis, men should instead be silent, manly and strong. That social and emotional disconnectedness simply adds to men’s vulnerability and contributes to a higher rate of suicide across the male population.
How do we tackle this problem? Part of the answer is to reduce the stigma around men’s mental health and to encourage men to open up and seek help when they are struggling or feeling in despair. In Coventry, the encouragement and the conversations are being initiated by the award-winning mental health awareness and suicide prevention campaign, “It Takes Balls to Talk”. It is the brainchild of mental health nurse Alex Cotton, who is my constituent.
The campaign is a public information programme targeted at male-dominated sporting venues across Coventry and Warwickshire, which uses sporting themes to raise awareness of mental health support services and seeks to reduce male suicide by encouraging men to talk about their feelings. Since its launch more than two years ago, “It Takes Balls to Talk” has played a vital role in breaking down the barriers that prevent men from initiating conversations about their mental health and wellbeing, and from positively engaging with mental health services in my local area. Such targeted initiatives promote positive mental health and make a lasting difference. That is why I am extremely proud of what the campaign has achieved so far and of the work it does across my city and Warwickshire. It is why I support it wholeheartedly.
I want to conclude by encouraging any men affected by a mental health issue not to bottle it up. Those are wise words for anyone. Talk to a friend, a colleague or a family member. Contact Mind, the Samaritans or “It Takes Balls to Talk”. They need to know that there are always people and organisations out there who will listen and offer practical help, advice and support. After all, you know what they say—it has just been said: a problem shared is a problem halved.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Bailey. It is great to be here to celebrate International Men’s Day. I know a lot of lovely men and the international ones are my particular favourites. I am very fond of modern European men, although sadly ardent Brexiteers do not seem to share my enthusiasm.
In these days of the #MeToo movement, we are hearing thousands more women’s voices that used to be silent. We have women demanding they are not paid less for the same or similar jobs as men, and women seeking to do their jobs without worrying about being groped or sexually assaulted by their boss. We have women who want to be able to go where they choose and wear what they choose without being attacked and then blamed for it. We hear a lot from women now. Thank goodness for today’s opportunity for men to stand up and demand those rights, too.
Some men who have long enjoyed the easy comforts of a patriarchal society feel threatened by more women having a say. Their own voice is no longer dominant and their privilege is no longer secure. They are left in a state of confusion by this politically correct agenda. They do not know what is acceptable to say or do around women anymore, now that they may have to account for their actions. They cannot even trust other men to laugh at their sexist locker room banter—too many metrosexuals around nowadays! The feminist agenda is seeking to enforce the radical notion that women are equal human beings, and those men’s grip on power has loosened.
Still, there is not too much for the privileged male to worry about just yet. Modern Britain is a long way from gender equality and old stalwarts such as those in the legal profession are keeping the side up. White, privately educated men are still far more likely to rise to the top across the old professions and we have the lowest proportion of female judges in the EU. Those trusty Brexiteers are doing their bit to keep it that way by distancing the UK from that gender diversifying European influence. If men’s voices really can be silenced in this place when still fewer than a third of MPs are women, we must be doing a pretty good job. Imagine what would happen if gender balance was actually achieved.
All joking aside, I am only too aware that many serious health concerns particularly affect men—hon. Members have already touched on them—and that is perhaps the justifiable reason for having this debate. Those issues deserve thorough scrutiny and action taken to tackle them. They include such things as increased risk of alcoholism, earlier mortality and the alarming suicide rates among young men, to name just a few.
Anyone determined to improve the stats might be interested in the findings of a recent report from the World Health Organisation. After studying the figures for 41 countries, it found that places with greater gender equality also had better health outcomes for men. In the most equal societies—measured by such factors as women in leadership positions and educational attainment—the risk of depression among men was halved, suicide rates were lower and there was a 40% reduction in the risk of a violent death. It is official: feminism is good for everyone.
It is not some innate biological differences that cause the different problems men struggle with—anatomical-specific issues aside—but societal pressures. The intense nurturing of a narrow, stereotypical idea about what men should be and how they should interact with women is difficult for many men. It is damaging to their health as much as it is to society’s. The more macho cultures encourage heavy drinking, for example, linking it to increased status and power in a group. On the other hand, speaking out about feelings, as has already been commented on, is discouraged.
There are no simple solutions, but society is shifting. Diving back into the world of the 1950s with its heavily embedded gender roles is the opposite of what needs to be done to improve matters. We must untangle masculinity from the toxic forms that have become so prevalent and let men and boys breathe a bit more easily. For International Men’s Day, the best thing we can do is to stand together in support of feminism and equality because it is good for men’s health. When women’s voices are speaking out for parity of the sexes, they are speaking out for men, too.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey, and a pleasure to sum up for the Scottish National party in this debate. I thank the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) for his comprehensive opening speech.
International Men’s Day is indeed a significant date on our calendars, although we are a wee bit late with the debate, as it was on 19 November. This annual international event is celebrated in more than 80 countries, including the UK. It was inaugurated in 1999 in Trinidad and Tobago with backing from UNESCO. The theme for 2018 is “Positive male role models”. The UK themes for this year are, “Making a difference for men and boys” and “How we can give men and boys better life chances”, as my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) set out.
We have heard much today about why International Men’s Day is so important. The hon. Member for Shipley and my hon. Friend starkly set out the taboo around men who are victims of abusive domestic relationships, and we need to break that silence for men and women. We have heard that the biggest killer of young men across the UK is suicide, so it is extremely important that men and boys alike can access the support they need. We have heard much about that today. It is also important that young men and young boys have positive role models to inspire them—not just famous celebrities or sportspeople, but people in their own families, their own communities or their own orbit living good, decent lives. To that end, we need to continue to encourage men to enter the primary education sector, as well as the secondary education sector.
International Men’s Day must be a far-reaching, big conversation, celebrating the contribution of men to our families, our communities and our country. We must work to ensure that men are more willing to talk about their hopes and fears, and take more care of their health and wellbeing. We have to do more to remove the stubborn stigma that persists around mental health issues and to continue the conversation about it being okay to struggle and about it not being a sign of weakness for a man to ask for help. We also need to make it clear that equality progressing for women does not in any way take anything away from men, who are, after all, half our population. As my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) shared with us, more equal relationships between men and women appear to have better health outcomes for men.
Much has been said today about the male suicide epidemic, and it is not an overstatement to call it that. The falling behind of young men and boys in education is also a challenge. We understand, too, the challenges faced by fathers as new parents or fathers separated from their children, as outlined by the hon. Member for Shipley. There is also the range of other challenges we have heard about today. There is no doubt that men feel under pressure to fit roles and behaviour that society has traditionally defined as masculine, such as not showing feelings and having to seem strong all the time. As we know, that can lead many men into despair and can even damage their mental health, as the hon. Member for Coventry North East (Colleen Fletcher) pointed out. That is a culture that we need to change, because it does not help men—it does not help anybody.
On average, men’s life expectancy is four years shorter than women’s. While that gap is decreasing, it is decreasing pretty slowly. Men have a higher incidence of heart disease, strokes, diabetes and obesity. They are 14% more likely to develop cancer than women, and 37% more likely to die from the disease.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw and the hon. Member for Coventry North East reminded us, the suicide statistics are the most concerning. Some 76% of suicides in the UK are committed by men. It is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45, which is difficult for me to get my head around. Every single day, about 12 men kill themselves across the UK, which demands some kind of response. In Scotland, men are three times more likely to kill themselves than women. The rate is the lowest in the UK, but it is still far too high.
To tackle suicide, we need to ensure that mental health support is available and works for those who need it, and to encourage men who need that help to seek and accept it—we can all agree on that. It will require a tremendous culture change, which I think will take longer than we would like. We know that men are more likely to be reluctant to seek help and are far less likely than their female counterparts to go and speak to their GP about pretty much anything, as my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw and the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) outlined.
We know that, on average, boys do worse in post-educational attainment. That means that we need to ensure that learning experiences for boys and young men takes account of their needs and the ways in which they learn, because there is evidence that boys and girls learn differently. As the hon. Member for Stafford pointed out, young men and young women need opportunities to find their way and their place in the world in order to reach their potential, whether they live in the UK or anywhere else in the world.
We know that the majority of children in care are boys. In 2017, 55% of the 14,897 looked-after children in Scotland were boys. That itself leads to poor outcomes, with poor educational attainment. It means a greater likelihood of experiencing the criminal justice system, of dying prematurely and of ending up homeless. It is a stark and worrying picture, which we need to address.
These are complex matters, as the hon. Member for Coventry North East pointed out, but over time we need to demonstrate to those we represent that we are mindful of these things and are actively seeking to address them together. These are not party political issues; they are issues about the society in which we live and how we can work to make it better and make the statistics relating to men better for all our sakes.
I pay tribute to two men’s sheds that have sprung up in my constituency—one for the three towns of Saltcoats, Ardrossan and Stevenston, and one in the Garnock valley servicing Beith, Kilbirnie and Dalry. Those men’s sheds—I am sure that others are springing up in constituencies across the UK—offer support, friendship and skills- sharing. They are run by volunteers and welcome all men aged 18 and above. I have seen first-hand the camaraderie and friendship that men’s sheds foster. They do nothing but good for the men who choose to attend them.
What damages men damages us all, and damages our society. Men are an integral part of all our lives, since we all have fathers, husbands, brothers and sons. Advancing the rights of women is not about doing men down; it is about ensuring that we can all reach our potential, regardless of our gender—men and women together. International Men’s Day cannot be about setting genders against each other, any more than International Women’s Day should be, because that does not help anyone. It is an important day to celebrate the fact that all men contribute, and have contributed, to our countries, societies, communities and families, and to recognise the particular, and sometimes unique, challenges that men face.
I reassure the hon. Member for Shipley that I agree that men should be treated equally to women. That is actually all that women want, as my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith pointed out. I am pleased to have participated in today’s debate, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s thoughts.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Bailey. I congratulate the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) on securing the debate, but I think he has done a bit of a disservice to it and to its theme. The hon. Members for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) and for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) hit the nail on the head when they talked about a fear of male privilege being taken away, and how the debate should not pitch one gender against another. Equality is equality, and that is what we strive for.
I am pleased that the debate is in its fourth year, and that I have been able to speak in it again on behalf of Her Majesty’s Opposition. As we have heard, more than 70 countries around the world celebrated International Men’s Day this year. I am always happy to appreciate and talk about the positive contributions that men make in society. Today plays a pivotal role in raising awareness of the issues affecting men in the UK, some of which we have heard about.
When we talk about men, we mean all men—the intersectionality of men, including trans men, disabled men, black men, poor men and young men. As we have heard, they suffer from everything from domestic abuse to rape, bullying and forced marriages, to name but a few. Nobody has yet mentioned the rough sleeping rate. In 2016-17, 86% of rough sleepers were male, which is a shocking statistic. We must ask ourselves what we can do as a society to prevent that from escalating and to tackle the issue before us.
One major issue that also largely affects men and was mentioned a number of times by the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) and my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North East (Colleen Fletcher) is, sadly, suicide. In 2017, 4,382 men tragically took their own lives—an average of 12 per day. We must look at what drives men to take their own lives and at what can we do as a society, and in this place, to reduce that high rate. Mental health plays a huge role, as do poverty, feelings of inadequacy, and social media. Hon. Members talked about health and cancer, and men have a high rate of prostate cancer. It is also a fact that men remain three times more likely to take their own lives than women. Again, we should focus on what we as a society can do to stop that happening. Mental health issues play a huge role in suicide and in homelessness, and disproportionately affect men from diverse communities—I think the hon. Member for Shipley touched on that. According to the Lambeth collective’s black health and wellbeing commission, black men are 17 times more likely to be diagnosed with serious mental health issues.
Other issues, regarding institutional racism, pertain to the diagnosis of mental health issues, such as the overmedication of black men. However, that does not negate the fact that a high proportion of black men suffer from mental health issues. Again, we must ask ourselves what we can do collectively as a society, and in this place, to stop that happening. I should also say that always having to justify themselves against racial stereotyping plays a fundamental role in the mental health of black men.
In 2013, the gay men’s health survey found that 3% of gay men and 5% of bisexual men attempted suicide that year, compared with just 0.4% of heterosexual men. We need to understand the role that we play in society, through our language and our attitudes, in allowing people to feel comfortable in their own skin.
Time and again, we hear the Prime Minister say that mental health will be given parity with physical health, but it seems to be all talk and no action. Money is not being put into mental health. It is so disappointing that mental health funding has been cut and that the number of mental health nurses has fallen by at least 6,600. How can we give parity to mental health if we are cutting the numbers of mental health nurses? We need mental health nurses in schools, in hospitals and everywhere we want to encourage men and young boys to talk about their issues. Every Member of this House must speak up and hold the Prime Minister to account. We must insist that mental health be prioritised and that mental health services be improved for everyone—young, old, male, female, intersex and non-binary. By doing so, we will prevent more people from taking their own lives.
One campaign that I supported this year was for Albert Trott to be recognised with a blue plaque. Albert Trott was a talented cricketer who played for Middlesex, Australia and England and who lived in Brent, my constituency, between 1897 and 1911. He is famous for being the only man ever to hit a ball over the pavilion at Lord’s—a great feat. Sadly, after his retirement he suffered from depression and mental illness. In July 1914, at the age of just 41, he took his own life. Some have alleged that he may not have been recognised for his accomplishments because of the stigma surrounding suicide and mental health. I am clear that Albert Trott should be celebrated and recognised. There should be a blue plaque in his name; perhaps it could even make mention of mental health to raise awareness of the issue, especially in professional sports.
Currently, no footballers in the premier league have publicly come out as gay. That is a sad situation—just imagine the anxiety and the turmoil for footballers who are gay. I am pleased that most of us in this House have agreed to make homophobic chanting at football matches a criminal offence. The Football Offences (Amendment) Bill will receive its Second Reading in January 2019 and I hope we will vote to make it law. We must do more to ensure that people are free to be their true and authentic selves at work, at home and in the street.
Let me mention a few names of people at the forefront who have used their fame to highlight the issue. Reggie Yates has done some amazing work on mental health and on what prison does to the mind. I was so impressed by hearing him speak and speaking to him. We need to do more to support him in encouraging black men to speak up. He has worked with #GramFam and CALM—the Campaign Against Living Miserably, which helps young men in regard to mental health. I could mention so many more people, including Stormzy, Zayn Malik and Gareth Thomas, who came out after retiring and who recently suffered a homophobic attack and was brave enough to speak about it. I am grateful to them all for sharing their inspirational stories, which remind us that we need to talk about men and celebrate good men.
I know that time is short, Mr Bailey, so I will conclude. There is no shame in being caring. We have heard today about how we want to encourage men to talk and share their feelings. Let me end with a reply to the hon. Member for Shipley, who asked me about the standard of women MPs. I want him to listen very carefully to this: I look forward to the day when there are more rubbish women in this House. I look forward to the day when there are as many rubbish female MPs as rubbish male MPs, because only then will I know that we have reached true equality.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I hope that I can start my speech on a slightly more positive note than that on which the hon. Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) ended hers, although I understand how she meant it.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) for securing this debate and for his continued commitment to shining a light not only on the pressing issues that men and boys face, but on the issue of equality. Having observed him in the Select Committee on Justice, the Women and Equalities Committee and the Chamber, I know that it is striving for equality that motivates him. He may occasionally attract attention by spreading that message—with which I am sure we all agree—in ways in which other Members may not express themselves, but none the less he does it in a way that shines a light on it. If I may say so, he is also an extremely efficient speaker; I counted at least seven huge topics that he raised in his speech. I hope he will forgive me if I do not address each and every one, but of course I will write to him on issues that I do not cover.
I thank hon. Friends and Members from all parties for their contributions to this important debate. I am pleased that it is now in its fourth year, which marks its firm importance in this House. I was struck by the aims that my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley set out for International Men’s Day, including the admirable aim of promoting male role models, a theme that the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) spoke very movingly about. She shared with us the incredibly important legacy of her husband, and her son’s thoughts on it.
Celebrating men is another aim of the day. My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) gave us an international perspective based on all his work around the world helping the most deprived communities and trying to spread equality and fairness. I am particularly grateful that he was able to contribute to the debate.
Promoting gender equality is also an important part of International Men’s Day. I sense from all the speeches made today that we are united in that aim. We know that rigid gender stereotypes can and do inhibit people’s choices and aspirations. When that happens, capable young boys and men can be held back from reaching their potential and, more widely, from becoming the positive role models that they can be.
The hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) mentioned the important role that male teachers can and must play in education, particularly primary school education. I am sure that everyone here feels, as I do, that the lack of male teachers is a sad fact about our primary school system. We are desperately trying to improve the situation, because we know the hugely positive effect that male teachers can have on boys and young men.
We all believe that it is crucial that we work together to champion gender equality in business, in politics and in our communities, because creating a more equal society in which everyone can participate and thrive benefits us all. My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley asked that men be treated equally to women. I am tempted to say with a wry smile that I wonder whether men would like to constitute fewer than a third of roles at board level, as women do at the moment. That is why we have the Hampton-Alexander review—not because we are trying to push men out of boards, but because we are trying to ensure that women are recognised in the workplace and achieve their potential on merit at the highest levels of business.
Quite rightly, hon. Members’ speeches focused on probably the most pressing issue that men and boys face in the 21st century in our country: mental health. Very sadly, as we have heard, rates of suicide are much higher among men than among women and suicide is the leading cause of death in men under the age of 50. Colleagues have already set out some thoughts on why that may be so. I am sure we agree that we need to do more to ensure that men can feel comfortable talking about their mental health needs. That is not just a point for us to discuss in this place; it is a societal change that needs to happen.
The Government want to push forward and achieve parity of esteem for mental health. We are doing that in a number of ways, including investing more than ever before in mental health—spending is estimated to have increased to just under £12 billion—as well as introducing the first waiting times standards for mental health, to ensure that more people get timely access to the treatment that they need. The five-year forward view for mental health will ensure an additional investment of £1 billion by 2020-21. An extra 1 million people will have access to mental health services. There is additional investment to improve mental health crisis resolution services in the community, to improve perinatal mental health and to ensure that there are liaison mental health services in general hospitals to support people in mental health crisis.
Many excellent organisations have been referred to, including CALM, Time to Change, Men’s Sheds and so on. Those organisations are all helping men and boys in our constituencies to make contact with each other, reach out and, I hope, deal with some of their problems.
Colleagues have also raised domestic abuse. I make it very clear that everyone deserves to feel safe at home. Home for all of us should be a place of safety, kindness and love. We know that domestic abuse can happen regardless of gender, wealth, background, geographical location and so on. That is precisely why the Government are bringing forward a draft domestic abuse Bill this Session to tackle the terrible scourge of domestic abuse.
My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley will be pleased to know that the Bill is of course gender-neutral, because I fully recognise, as do the Government, that men can be victims of domestic abuse. However, I must place that in context: the reality is that a disproportionate number of victims are women. According to estimates from SafeLives, in 2016-17, 95% of victims were female. I do not say that to create controversy; I say it as a fact—and that is why so many services are focused on helping female victims. The most serious cases show us that the vast majority of victims are female, but I do not for a moment take away from the point that men and boys can be victims as well.
My hon. Friend mentioned the interesting statistics on offenders. He is extremely consistent and persistent in his campaign in this regard and wrote to the Ministry of Justice about the statistics for offenders in prison. His statistics are correct—1,626 female prisoners and 4,146 male prisoners have been victims of domestic abuse. I am obliged to put that in context. There are 3,287 female offenders and 68,827 male offenders in prison, which means that the percentage of domestic abuse victims in the prison population is 49% for women and 6% for men.
In terms of prisoners who are perpetrators of domestic abuse, 18% of female prisoners are identified as ever having been a perpetrator of domestic abuse or violence; 34% of male prisoners have been so identified. A great deal of our work on the Bill and the package of non-legislative measures that we are bringing forward will be to focus on the impact that domestic abuse has on children, as well as on people who end up in prison. We want to see whether there are things that we can do to help ensure that the cycle of violence is broken so that the prison population is not peopled with victims and perpetrators of domestic abuse.
The hon. Member for Brent Central raised the important issue of homelessness and rough sleeping. Men are more likely to end up sleeping rough for a variety of reasons, including higher rates of interaction with the criminal justice system and higher rates of alcohol and drug abuse. We are determined to tackle all forms of homelessness, including making sure that people in temporary accommodation are getting support to keep a roof over their heads.
We are investing more than £1 billion by 2020 to support those efforts and have been implementing the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, which requires councils to provide early support to people at risk of being left without anywhere to go. Our rough sleeping strategy is an ambitious package, which will help people who sleep rough now and helps to put in place the structures that will end rough sleeping once and for all. We want to make sure that we get to the root of the unique problems in every local authority and tackle the very complex range of reasons why people sleep rough.
My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley mentioned access rights to children and the family courts. The legislative framework that governs family law cases is gender neutral and is focused on the welfare of children, not on the rights of parents. By law, the court must presume the involvement of a parent in the life of child will further that child’s welfare, unless there is evidence to the contrary. There would need to be very good reasons for a court to decide that a parent should not spend time with their children or that there should be no parental involvement at all.
The court has a wide discretion to determine what is necessary to meet a child’s welfare needs. That may reflect the court’s consideration of social work analysis and recommendations from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, the wishes and feelings of the child concerned, how capable each parent is of meeting that child’s welfare needs, and any harm or further harm the child is at risk of suffering. The evidence from research is that the family courts are in favour of contact and make significant efforts to try to facilitate an ongoing relationship between a child and its non-resident parent.
I am conscious of time, so I will fly through the gender pay gap. The gender pay gap is 17.9%. The reason why we publish those figures is not to somehow discriminate against men—it is to close the gap. My hon. Friend raised in particular the issue of the gender pay gap for men who work part time. That reflects the fact that women, including those in well-paid jobs, are more likely to work part time, while men are less likely to work part time, and when they do, they tend to do so in lower paid roles. It is a fascinating area of research and there will be much more to discuss in coming years.
On hate incidents and the police, there is no requirement on police forces to record hate incidents, as perhaps has been reported. It is up to police and crime commissioners and chief constables to decide how they deal with hate incidents and to set local policing priorities. There is a pilot scheme in Nottinghamshire at the moment, where the chief constable has decided that misogyny hate crime incidents will be recorded. Although it is not a crime in and of itself, the force want to get a sense of the rate of such incidents and the chief constable has decided to do that. There is no requirement from the Home Office, but obviously such data is very interesting and we are watching it with great interest.
My hon. Friend also mentioned the very complex issues of female genital mutilation and male circumcision, and I very much understand why he raised that. Female genital mutilation is illegal and the range of ways in which a little girl can be mutilated is, frankly, horrific. I take the point he raised about male circumcision. I will consider that and will write to him, because I would not wish to address such an important matter on the fly.
My hon. Friend concluded his speech by wishing that we could all live together equally in happiness. I finish by saying that I think we can all agree on that.
I thank you, Mr Bailey, for chairing our session today. I thank everybody who has attended and spoken in the debate. I am sure everybody would agree that we have had some fantastic contributions, from Members from all parts of the House.
I am glad that people were able to give a plug to some of the initiatives in their constituencies, such as “It Takes Balls to Talk” in the constituency of the hon. Member for Coventry North East (Colleen Fletcher) and the men’s sheds in that of the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson). I thank everybody for their contributions. Everybody has raised a different element or issue, all of which are very serious. The hon. Member for Coventry North East said that there was not much time to talk about these things, and I hope we will have longer in the future. We might have lots of men discussing issues, but we do not often discuss men’s issues.
Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(14)).