International Men's Day

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The objectives of an International Men's Day include focusing on men's and boys' health, improving gender relations, promoting gender equality, and highlighting positive male role models.

The theme for 2015 is “Make A Difference for Men and Boys” and aims to highlight some of the issues that affect Men and Boys all over the world such as:

  • men’s shorter life expectancy (including all men’s health issues, workplace deaths and homelessness)
  • the high male suicide rate
  • violence against men and boys (including sexual violence and domestic abuse)
  • the struggles that boys can face in getting an education
  • the unique challenges of the father-child relationship
  • the negative portrayal of fathers, and, men and boys

As part of International Men’s Day Rachael Maskell MP for York Central attended the debate today titled Male Suicide and International Men's Day in Westminster Hall.

Rachael Maskell MP for York Central says:
“I think it is important to mark International Men’s Day, which is helping to raise awareness of serious men’s issues such as premature mortality, physical and mental health challenges and the increase in male suicide.

"York has seen a shift from men being employed in highly skilled career jobs such as in the railway industry to less secure, zero hours employment which has had a big impact on those men and women involved and on the city as a whole.

"I think it is right to create space to discuss what challenges men face and how to tackle these issues that many men do not come forward and readily speak about. 

"Experts have suggested that men often face issues of isolation and carry a huge burden when they lose their jobs, money is tight or the bills are difficult to pay. Austerity, debt and unemployment over the last five years has affected most of us in one way or another and International Men’s Day is a good opportunity for men to open up and discuss the challenges they face.

"In my surgeries I see men coming forward who express serious concerns over low pay and poor housing. The proposed government cuts to tax credits are also having a huge detrimental effect on people who are already struggling to get by and are worried how they will manage with £1300 less per year to live on.

"As York’s MP, I recognise that often political debates make an assumption that men will be able to manage. This is wrong. And whist it is absolutely right that we continue the fight for the rights and equality of women both in the UK and worldwide, we should also recognise the challenges that some men face such as the lack of access to a good job, decent housing and the requirement in many cases, for a better quality of life.

"I may be the first woman MP for York, but I will certainly be fighting in Westminster for men from across the city, and on International Men’s Day will be attending the debate in Westminster Hall.”

Rachael's speech was recorded by Hansard as follows:

Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Defence)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gapes. I was not going to speak in this debate, but I felt moved to do so by events that have occurred in York over the last few days. It is a pleasure to follow Mrs Miller, who raised many issues, and my hon. Friend Mrs Moon, who has expertise in the subject. I thank Philip Davies for securing this debate, which is important, although I do not concur with many of the comments that he made. I like to think that we debate based on evidence; anecdotal comments often do not add to debate. However, it is an important debate, so I thank him for securing it.

It is important that we recognise the needs of men and the challenges they face in our communities. Just last week, I had the pleasure of meeting with a group of men and Age UK to highlight the problem of isolation for men in later life and to consider establishing a men’s shed—a safe place where men can gather to discuss issues—in York. A countrywide project has been successful, giving men a space to talk about the challenges they face, particularly health challenges, of which mental health is obviously one.

I rose to speak in this debate because there has been a big debate in York about International Men’s Day and whether we should recognise it. In fact, as has unfortunately reached national headlines, the university was going ahead with a programme for today but has withdrawn from engagement with the process. I say that with regret; the decision comes on the back of a petition from 200 students saying that they did not think the day should be recognised. The university is committed to equality and to progressing the equality agenda, and two male students lost their lives just before I took office, so I think it is important that the university speaks out on the issues and the services available.

What has not been reflected in this debate is the necessity of recognising separately the importance of raising women’s issues. I am not saying that men’s issues and women’s issues are mutually exclusive, just that it is important to recognise ongoing women’s issues, because there is huge inequality across our society. However, I recognise that there are some areas of inequality for men, which is why this debate is important.

Suicide rates across our country are far too high. One person taking their own life is too many, and the fact that in 2013 6,233 people felt that they could not carry on living—a 4% rise on the previous year—means that we have much work to do. As I was researching for this debate, I found, shockingly, that the male suicide rate in my own city, York, is the fourth highest in England, behind Darlington, County Durham and Calderdale. That is worrying. Those places are in the north-east and Yorkshire, so there is a geographical issue to address as well, and behind that we might want to consider some of the causes of suicide, because unless we face up to the challenges as other people are and use this place to address the causes of suicide, we will never change those shocking statistics.

Suicide in York has risen to its highest level: 22 people lost their life in 2013. Even since I have taken office, people have taken their life. Looking at the causes, we know that the last few years have been particularly challenging for many in terms of personal debt, austerity and unemployment, which can have an impact on why people feel that they can no longer go on. We know that people are struggling with mental health challenges and facing changes, whether a loss of or reduction in benefits or other factors, that result in serious life changes or financial challenges to their family.

Andrew Turner Conservative, Isle of Wight

I am interested by that suggestion. All sorts of things have been examined relatively recently, but can the hon. Lady explain why the suicide rate is less likely to decrease for men than for women?

Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Defence)

That is why the research to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend referred is so important. There are so many causes of suicide that we need to understand. If we look at Greece and the impact of the recession there, we see that male suicide rates have increased tenfold. It is a serious issue. Some serious research has been done, but more needs to be done about the shape of our economy and the impact it has on personal life and the challenges that people face as a result.

In addition to those very difficult statistics, with which we all wrestle, one thing that I want to highlight is the services available to support people with mental health challenges. We know that those services are currently overwhelmed by demand. I look at York Mind —a fantastic organisation with great leadership. In just the last three years, demand for its services has doubled, from 650 people three years ago to 1,300 this year. We are seeing increasing demands on not-for-profit organisations, which always find it a challenge to know where their next pennies or their next resources are coming from. If we are going to take a strategic approach, we need to ensure that the infrastructure bodies are well resourced to deal with the issues, but of course it is always important to get upstream and address the causes.

In York, we have been faced with another challenge, which is the closure of Bootham Park hospital. It was our mental health hospital in York, but it was closed because of the suicide risk the old building, which was constructed in the 18th century, presented, which had not been addressed. To reduce the risk to individuals the hospital was closed, but that created a new risk because people are scattered perhaps more than 50 miles away from the services they need. Some of them have to go as far away as Harrogate to reach a place of safety; having a crisis in the back of an ambulance is not appropriate at all. It is really important that facilities are in the right place, so that people can access them at their time of need.

One of the consequences of the closure of Bootham Park hospital is that there has been an investment in the street triage team. That is why I very much concur with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend. The street triage team is there at the scene, at the earliest possible point of intervention. None the less, overall risk has increased because there are no facilities locally for somebody then to go to. The insecurity that that causes individuals is a real concern.

Lead clinicians who were working at Bootham Park hospital have highlighted the risk factors of closure, and that is why my continual plea is that we look at the infrastructure and the interrelationship between the not-for-profit organisations, the health service and the other agencies when we are addressing the issues associated with suicide, because we have a responsibility—I would say an obligation—to ensure that those organisations are working seamlessly together. If we have not got those things right, it is also our responsibility if someone is pushed to the point of taking their life.


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