International Men’s Day — [Mr Adrian Bailey in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 3:35 pm on 29th November 2018.

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Photo of Jeremy Lefroy Jeremy Lefroy Conservative, Stafford 3:35 pm, 29th November 2018

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 Philip Davies spoke then, and I am grateful for his remarks today, and for those of 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 is 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.