Mark Brooks is national ambassador for International Men’s Day and was awarded an OBE for services to male victims of domestic abuse. He was parliamentary candidate for Batley and Spen in the 2019 general election.

Last year on International Men’s Day, I wrote on ConservativeHome that it had become a grassroots success and, this year, it looks to be even better.

More than 200 organisations across the country are involved, and we are looking to beat the 195,000 tweets we had last year (these things matter these days). We also have a parliamentary debate again soon, led by Nick Fletcher, the MP for Don Valley, and if it is better than last year then we will be in for a real treat.

A key function of the event is the opportunity it provides to focus on a whole range of wellbeing issues that affect men and boys. It also promotes the charities that support them, and seeks to enable a positive conversation about the contribution they make to their families, society and their country.

The range of challenges and issues faced by men and boys are wide-ranging from education to employment, homelessness to prison and fatherhood to forced marriage – and much more. Many were covered by the newly formed APPG on Issues Affecting Men and Boys in its recent A Boy Today Report.

One policy area that has now come to the fore is the need for men’s health strategy and the formal campaign led by the Men’s Health Forum called “Levelling up Men’s Health” was launched on Wednesday. It is a campaign that I support.

The facts are stark on men’s health and just a few are:

  • 32 men die each day due to prostate cancer (11,900 per year).
  • 13 men take their own lives every day (4,728 across the UK).
  • One in five men never make it to 65.
  • The Office for National Statistics reported the first decline in male life expectancy since the 1980s.
  • Covid mortality rates for working age men were 31 per 100,000  – nearly twice as high as for women.

Alongside the terrible emotional and social consequences on the lives and families of those affected, this also imposes huge costs for the NHS, sick pay and welfare benefits and the significant economic and productivity costs.

The need for an overarching men’s health strategy is because these and a whole range of other issues outlined in the MHF’s Case for Change are interlinked and are not based on individual conditions such as heart disease, obesity or poor mental health.

The links involve a broadly common biology, psychology, a ‘man-up’ society and a public health system that has to do more to be male-friendly.

There are overarching issues that cause different conditions. For instance, male suicide is often due to problems relating to employment, relationship breakdown and financial concerns. It is not inherently “male” to want to take your own life. A better understanding of how these issues impact men in different ways would better help us understand why some men take their owns lives, become isolated or drink, for example. There is a need to look at the causes and not focus on the symptoms, and an overarching strategy would help pull these threads together.

This is compounded by health services that are not always available when men need them (especially outside “working hours”) or a lack of targeted communications campaigns. Despite men making up 75 per cent of all suicides, men make up only 34 per cent of those referred to specialist NHS psychology services.  A half-truth is that men do not go to the doctors. When they retire, men see their doctor as much as women do, but there is a considerable gap when it comes to working age.

Taking an overall and holistic approach to the health of each gender is growing in momentum across the world including a men’s health strategy in Ireland and Australia and at World Health Organisation Europe level. The Government is due to soon publish a very welcome Women’s Health Strategy, so such an approach for men would not be radical but in keeping with current national and international policy direction. A strategy would also help to make the public sector accountable for men’s health outcomes.

The large growth in brilliant charities such as Andy Man’s Club and UK Men’s Sheds shows how taking a gender-informed approach is a success and a solution. The wonderful Prostate Cancer UK campaign is the best advert you will ever see about why men’s health matters to us all and the positive impact of a sharper policy focus.

There continues to be a growing central London establishment view steeped in the increasingly febrile world of gender identity politics that men and boys’ wellbeing is somehow not a priority. This is out of keeping with what the public think, especially normal women and girls who care about their dads, brothers, sons and partners.

The growing popularity of International Men’s Day shows how out of touch the negative voices are. A Conservative Government commitment to start the process for creating a men’s health strategy would certainly be a signal on how in tune it also is on men and boys’ wellbeing.

Happy International Men’s Day everyone!