James Sunderland speaks in debate on International Men’s Day

James supports International Men’s Day which raises awareness and funds for charities supporting men and boys and promotes a positive conversation about men, manhood and masculinity as well as the challenges such as shorter life expectancies, infertility and workplace death.

James Sunderland (Bracknell) (Con)

International Men’s Day has been an annual event since 2010, and the UK has the most events of its kind anywhere in the world. It is overseen by the Men and Boys Coalition, a registered charity including over 100 organisations, academics and professionals who believe in a society that values the wellbeing of men and boys.

There are some positive themes: it makes a positive difference to wellbeing, it raises awareness and funds for charities supporting men and boys and it promotes a positive conversation about men, manhood and masculinity, all of which is a good thing. There are some serious themes, too. In 1998, my very closest friend sadly committed suicide. It was a devastating event for me, his family and all of his friends. I am well versed in the mess left behind. We must end the stigma around men’s mental health and commend the truth that it is okay not to feel okay. The simple answer is: please seek help.

International Men’s Day is also about the challenges faced by men and boys at all stages of education, shorter life expectancies, infertility and workplace death. It is about the challenges faced by the most marginalised men in society and homeless boys in care. It is about inner cities and black and white working-class males. It is also about male victims of violence, the challenges faced by men as parents, and survivors of sexual abuse, rape and domestic abuse. That is all relevant.

In this era of identity politics, it is becoming increasingly popular to ridicule men who display traits of traditional masculinity such as self-reliance, personal responsibility, discipline and courage—even fatherhood. Guess what? I do not subscribe to that, because all men matter. Indeed, the UK prides itself on being among the top meritocracies in the world. Equality of opportunity is something we absolutely must strive for, so it is about black and white, gay and straight, male and female. Everyone has a role, and no one should feel ashamed of who they are. It is not about men as a comparative species; it is simply about drawing attention to particular issues affecting men.

Lastly, I have some quick stats. In 2018, almost 5,000 men took their own lives at a rate of 13 a day—17.2 per 100,000—which is the highest rate since 2013. Men also make up 75% of suicides. Girls are now 14% more likely than boys to pass exams in English and maths, while boys are permanently excluded more than three times as often, with 6,000 permanent exclusions. I think much of that is down to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and to autism spectrum disorder, which is a separate issue in itself but one we need to look at closely. Of the 79,000 people in prison, 96% are male. So we have got work to do.