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All-Party Parliamentary Group calls for action on disadvantages facing boys and young men after hearing evidence from Coalition members

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Issues Affecting Men and Boys formed in March 2021 has published its first-ever report highlighting the views of seven leading experts drawn from members of the Men and Boys Coalition.

After hearing the evidence over four evidence sessions on what it is like to “To be a boy today”, the APPG believes there needs to be concerted action from the government and policymakers in tackling a range of disadvantages boys and young men face in Britain today.

Between April and July 2021, the seven experts (See Annex 1) gave a snapshot of the disadvantages (core statistics can be found in Annex 2) and challenges that so many boys face and their individual ideas they have to solve them (See Annex 3 for summary). They spoke with respect to their particular areas of expertise in Family Life/Fatherlessness, Education, Community/Social influences and Health.

While the speakers gave evidence about different aspects of a boy’s life, the APPG believed three themes emerged: These were:

  • Theme 1: The mainstream narrative on men and boys leads to a lack of action on the disadvantages and issues negatively affecting them – even when the figures are in plain sight.
  • Theme 2: The psychological, behavioural and developmental differences between boys and girls need to be better understood, alongside not making assumptions about men and boys’ help-seeking.
  • Theme 3: There is little acknowledgement of the long-lasting impact of early trauma on boys and men and also the need for positive role models.

Following the evidence sessions, the view of the members of the APPG are that there is clearly a need for the government, policymakers, statutory agencies and sectors (particularly education and health) to take concerted and coordinated action in focussing on:

  • Addressing areas of disadvantage facing boys in Britain today, especially given that the data and issues are clearly available and visible;
  • Improving the understanding of male psychology and biology, and, translating this into policies, programmes and funding streams that address the challenges;
  • Ensuring that public services and communications are as boy/male friendly as possible, and,
  • Being proactive in addressing societal and cultural myths around male behaviour, help-seeking and motivations.

The APPG also believes that the views and proposals of national experts, including those who spoke at the evidence sessions, should be taken into account in addressing the above.

Nick Fletcher MP (Don Valley), Vice-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Issues Affecting Men and Boys, said: “The APPG was formed because a range of Parliamentarians shared the view that there was a need to better understand the challenges experienced by men and boys and raise their profile. These included education, physical health, mental health, fatherhood alongside more broadly, how society supported men and boys who were disadvantaged in these and other areas.

“For our first report, the wide range of experts  gave evidence about different aspects of a boy’s life and some common themes emerged about the barriers and disadvantages they face. Importantly we heard a range of ideas about how things can be improved. We believe Government and Parliament should take note and alongside policy makers, think tanks and sector representative bodies, they should take concerted action to address them.

“If we are to live in a fully inclusive country, we need to address the disadvantages that men and boys face alongside the need to address the disadvantages women and girls face. We all live in our society together – boys are sons, brothers and future husbands, partners, dads and work colleagues. Resolving the issues boys face today means a better society for all, now and in the future.”

The remit of the APPG is ‘to raise awareness of disadvantages and poor outcomes faced by men and boys in education, mental and physical health and law; to influence attitudes, role models, policy and legislation that will lead to positive differences to their well-being and lives.’

The future work of this APPG will be to look in more depth, to ‘shine a light’ on particular aspects and bring forward recommendations for action by government, policymakers and different sectors. A Men’s Health Strategy will be the next area the APPG will focus upon.

ENDS

Notes to Editors

The full report “A Boy Today” can be found here:

For further media comment on the APPG report from Nick Fletcher MP, please contact nick.fletcher.mp@parliament.uk and 020 7219 2759

For more information about the report, please contact Mark Brooks OBE, Policy Advisor to the APPG on mark.brooks70@talktalk,net or 07834 452357

This is not an official publication of the House of Commons or the House of Lords. It has not been approved by either House or its committees. All-Party Parliamentary Groups are informal groups of Members of both Houses with a common interest in particular issues. The views expressed in this report are those of the group.

Annex 1: Evidence Session Speakers:

Family Life/Fatherlessness: Sonia Shaljean, Chief Executive, Lads Need Dads
Education: Professor Gijsbert Stoet, Professor of Psychology at the University of Essex and
Dr Erik Cownie, School of Applied Social and Policy Sciences, Ulster University
Community/Social influences: Professor Naomi Murphy, The Fens Unit, HMP Whitemoor and
Martin Seager, consultant clinical psychologist
Health: Martin Tod, Chief Executive, Men’s Health Forum and Natasha Devon MBE, founder of the Mental Health Media Charter
 

Annex 2: Statistics

The facts and figures about male disadvantage are all in the public domain, published by reputable bodies such as the Office for National Statistics. The House of Commons also published an important research paper for the International Men’s Day debate in the House of Commons chamber on 19 November 2020[1]. The statistics include:

  • Boys lag behind girls at every stage of education and boys are more likely to be excluded from school1;
  • An estimated 13.2% of men aged 16 to 24 years were NEETS (Not in Education, Employment or Training) and for women the proportion was 10%[2];
  • Suicide death rates among men are three times higher than for women1;
  • Life expectancy at birth is 3.7 years lower for men than women – 79.4 for men and 83.1 for women1;
  • Men are more likely to die of a cancer or Covid, with mortality for the latter widening for working age adults (Covid mortality rates for working age men are 31 deaths per 100,000 compared with equivalent female death rates of 17 per thousand, respectively)[3];
  • Among rough sleepers 83% are male1, and,
  • Men make up 96% of the prison population[4].

Annex 3: Summary of suggested policies and ideas from the speakers

The summary of the speakers’ individual policy recommendations in their areas of expertise are:

  • Family (Fatherlessness) – The policy recommendations focussed on the need to formally recognise growing up in a fatherless household as being a risk factor for adverse educational and personal development. In addition, there needs to be more funding for schemes that focus on this group, including for mentoring, a boys reading library and a formal flagging system for boys as they move from primary to secondary school.
  • Education (Boys’ Educational Underachievement) – The policy recommendations focussed on the need for a better understanding of the developmental differences and the impact of the school environment on boys’ learning. They also focussed on addressing key areas such as motivation, despondency, parent/teaching relationships, highlight the need for a more relational approach that emphasises the economic value of education by connecting learning with the lives and aspirations of working class boys in particular. Common myths need to be dispelled about the motivation of boys and their parents.
  • Community (Societal Stereotypes and their effect on young male wellbeing) – The policy recommendations focussed more on the need to tackle growing societal and gender stereotypical norms that view men, boys and masculinity as inherently bad/negative. This means problems they face are not tackled or recognised and the positive aspects of men and masculinity are not celebrated. This narrative exacerbates and reinforces these disadvantages. The female-dominated field of psychology is an area that needs to focus more on male psychology.
  • (Health) Mental and Physical Health of Boys and Men – The policy recommendations focussed firstly on the recognition that men and women do have differences when it comes to health and this should lead to a men’s health strategy being developed in tandem with a women’s health strategy. Secondly, the health and social care system needs to change the way it approaches the issue of boys’ mental health. This include believing there are higher rates of mental health issues in girls than boys, victim blaming boys and assuming that young men have the same social cues around ‘masculinity’ as their forebears. It was important also to target mental health support in places where boys and men go.

[1] House of Commons Library: Debate Pack for International Men’s Day 2020 (19 November 2020) – https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/CDP-2020-0138/CDP-2020-0138.pdf

[2] Office for National Statistics: Young people not in education, employment or training (NEET), UK: March 2021 – https://bit.ly/3fog1xo

[3] Office for National Statistics: Coronavirus (COVID-19) and the different effects on men and women in the UK, March 2020 to February 2021 – https://bit.ly/3ifxvxK

[4] Ministry of Justice: Prison population figures (2020) – https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/prison-population-figures-2020