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

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 3:55 pm on 29th November 2018.

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Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs) 3:55 pm, 29th November 2018

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 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 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 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 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 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 take 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.