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

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 4:05 pm on 29th November 2018.

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Photo of Dawn Butler Dawn Butler Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities 4:05 pm, 29th November 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Bailey. I congratulate 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 Marion Fellows and my hon. Friend 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 we can 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.