International Men's Day

Maria Caulfield Excerpts
Tuesday 21st November 2023

(8 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Maria Caulfield Portrait The Minister for Women (Maria Caulfield)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. May I start by saying how pleased I am to participate in today’s debate? The theme of this year’s International Men’s Day is “zero male suicide”, which was touched on in many contributions today and is something that I am passionate about in my role as mental health Minister. I will touch on the groundbreaking work that we are introducing in that space, which is absolutely a priority area for this Government.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher) for securing the debate and for his tireless campaigning. He has held my feet to the fire to get men’s health recognised in a way that has not happened before, and pushed the Government to make this a priority area.

We are clear that more needs to be done to improve outcomes across the board for men, particularly in relation to health. That includes men and boys, whose place in society, as we have heard today, is integral to equality for all, because when men thrive, we all thrive. We all have fathers, brothers, friends, husbands, partners and colleagues. When we improve care for women, that impacts society, but that is equally true when we improve care for men. That is why, as part of International Men’s Day, we have made some significant announcements, which I will touch on.

My hon. Friend highlighted really well that improving outcomes for men is everybody’s business, and I absolutely agree. Whether in relation to economic prosperity for society, delivering education to the next generation, or even politics—or, of course, our own families—it is really important that we support men in every way, and International Men’s Day is an opportunity to highlight the issues that they face.

My hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory) spoke about the impact of supporting men, particularly around the loss of a child; my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley gave the example of “Tommy” and talked about how many Tommies there are across the country facing those very issues today; my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Dame Maria Miller) touched on life expectancy differences for men; and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) touched on the issues facing veterans. Alongside the NHS, we are rolling out Op Courage for veterans, service leavers and reservists across England, and there is different support in different regions, but I will absolutely take up with the veterans Minister what we can do to help support a similar scheme in Northern Ireland.

The theme of this year’s International Men’s Day is zero male suicide. The latest data we have from the Office for National Statistics tells us that men account for around three quarters of all deaths by suicide. As many Members have said, that is the biggest cause of premature death in men under 35, but middle-aged men are also a significant risk group, and that is why they are a priority group in our recently published suicide prevention strategy. Over 4,500 men die by suicide in England alone every year. My hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley noted that is 13 deaths a day. Every suicide is a tragedy, and we know about the ripple effect that it has for family and friends. We have heard from campaigners what a devastating loss it can be.

Achieving zero male suicide is an ambitious target. In our suicide prevention strategy, we have addressed men as a priority group and addressed the many issues that they face, including alcohol addiction, financial pressures and relationship breakdown. Those are all key drivers of male suicide, so we want to tackle them and put better support systems in place.

Male suicide is everyone’s business. About two thirds of men who take their own lives are in contact with a frontline service, such as primary care, in the three months leading up to their suicide. That is why every Department—whether it is the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Ministry of Defence or the Ministry of Justice—has a role to play in our suicide prevention strategy. We are bringing those Departments together to make suicide everyone’s business, and we want to see a difference—a reduction—in two and a half years.

I do not have a huge amount of time, because my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley has to respond to the debate, but I want to touch on the announcement we made on International Men’s Day of £16 million funding for a new prostate cancer screening trial. On my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke’s point about life expectancy, we know that cancer is a significant driver of that. That is why we have rolled out our “man’s van” for lung cancer checks, to target men who have previously smoked and perhaps are not as good as they should be in coming forward to get checks done. That is enabling us to detect around 80% of lung cancers at stage 1, rather than at stage 3 and 4 as was the case previously. The prostate research will dramatically change outcomes for men. On the point made by the hon. Member for Strangford, we can look at that on a UK-wide basis, and we will have discussions with the devolved Administrations before that is rolled out in the spring.

We are appointing a men’s health ambassador—work will start on that soon—and we are launching a men’s health taskforce to join up all the dots. In a similar way to what we have done on the menopause taskforce, my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley, as chair of the APPG, will be invited to that meeting. We will also improve the information on the NHS UK website, to make it easier for men to access help and support. Men often find it difficult to ask for help, but if it is available on the website, they can do that in the privacy of their own home and know that the information is reliable.

We are also now rolling out the HPV vaccine to boys. While we hope that vaccine will help us eradicate cervical cancer, we know that some male cancers—particularly oral cancers—are related to HPV, so rolling out the vaccine to boys will also have an impact on future cancers in men. We also have our major conditions strategy, which will look at things such as heart disease. There is a huge amount of work going on in this space.

I hope that in my whistle-stop tour—

Karl McCartney Portrait Karl MᶜCartney
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Will my hon. Friend give way?

Maria Caulfield Portrait Maria Caulfield
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I will not, because my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley needs time to respond.

I hope that, in showcasing some of the work we are doing, I have demonstrated how seriously we take this issue. Once again, I thank my hon. Friend for his work in this space.