You may recall this post from last January calling for people to submit letters to the Prime Minister and/or their MPs to change the remit of the Minister for Women and Equalities to be the obviously more equitable Minister for Equalities. I duly made my submission to the Prime Minister (Cabinet Office), copied to my local MP (Conservative). As I expected, the Cabinet Office passed it to the Government Equalities Office (GEO). Below is the text of my letter, followed by the reply I have just received. I believe others have received an identical response.
I was not so disconnected from reality as to expect the request to be immediately fulfilled. The purpose of the exercise – if carried out by many people – is to start the process of nudging the political psychology in the right direction (expanding the Overton Window).
In the forthcoming Cabinet reshuffle I urge you to consider that the title of the current ‘Minister for Women and Equalities’ be changed to simply ‘Minister for Equalities’ and that the remit both of the minister and of the current Government Equalities Office (GEO) be changed to include issues affecting men and boys.
It is anachronistic beyond belief that inequality is equated with women. It is boys who are failing in education, men who massively dominate the suicide statistics, men who die earlier, and men who make up the overwhelming majority of rough sleepers and deaths at work. It is also men whom one can denigrate freely without fear of censure. And the epidemic of fatherlessness is now having catastrophic effects on the wellbeing of children and young adults. Perhaps fathers need help rather than more brickbats?
It is a strange anomaly that the remit of the Government Equalities Office is currently women, sexual orientation and transgender equality when the 2010 Equality Act recognises nine protected characteristics. Moreover, that related to sex is just that – sex – not the female sex alone.
The Reply from the Government Equalities Office…
GEO.CORRESPONDENCE@cabinetoffice.gov.uk <email@example.com>Thu 19/03/2020 10:33
Thank you for your recent letter of 15th January concerning issues that affect men.
You raised the issue of a change being made to a ministerial title and remit. All ministerial appointments are made by the Prime Minister. Any suggestions for future ministerial appointments would be a matter for the Prime Minister to consider, but let me assure you that this Government is continuously working to ensure that gender equality works for men and boys, as well as for women and girls.
You also raised the issue of boys failing in education. Our education policies are intended to ensure that all young people, whatever their background or circumstances, have the opportunity to reach their potential. Evidence indicates that variations in the academic attainment of different groups of pupils reflects a range of complex and interwoven factors, including socio-economic; cultural; linguistic; geographical; intergenerational; and gender related aspects.
The Government’s policy has not been to create programmes and separate funding streams targeted at specific groups of pupils, but rather to support the move towards a school-led, self-improving system characterised by high expectation for all, autonomy and flexibility, underpinned by robust accountability. Teachers and head teachers are best-placed to understand and respond to the specific needs of their pupil cohort and increase opportunity and attainment for all their pupils.
You also raised concerns around the high suicide rates in men, this is a terrible issue that is of the utmost importance. Research has shown that men account for three quarters of all suicides, and that in women, suicide rates have risen among certain groups, including in the 45-49 year-old group and for the 10-24 year-old group.
I am sure you will agree that every suicide is a tragedy and we must understand the factors behind each suicide across the whole of society – including those committed by men. This is why the steps we are taking to reduce suicide rates include actions to ensure that fewer men die by suicide. In January 2019, the Department published the first cross-government Suicide Prevention Workplan, which sets out an ambitious programme across national and local government and delivery agencies to reduce suicide rates. The Workplan sets out action that is being taken across Government departments and the NHS to reduce suicides, including amongst men.
Tackling the stigma associated with mental health remains a key priority and is one that can have a major impact on help-seeking behaviours. The Government continues to provide funding for The Time to Change national initiative which continues to play a key role to reduce mental health stigma, including through campaigns targeted at men.
In addition, tackling homelessness and rough sleeping in all its forms is a key priority for this Government. It is why we are putting in place £437 million to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping over 2020/2021. This marks an additional £69 million on what the Government provided in 2019/20, and will go towards funding important programmes such as the Rapid Rehousing Pathway, the Rough Sleeping Initiative and the Flexible Homelessness Support Grant.
During April 2018, the Homelessness Reduction Act was introduced to transform the culture of homelessness service delivery. Local authorities and other public bodies must now work together to actively relieve people of their homelessness or prevent homelessness for people at risk.
We understand the importance of taking early action to swiftly prevent and relieve homelessness, which is why the Government committed in its recent manifesto to fully enforce the Homelessness Reduction Act. We have already taken steps to achieve this by announcing a new £63 million Homelessness Reduction Grant.
Regarding deaths in the workplace, Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has statistics that show that about 95% of workplace fatalities were male (*link below). However this correlates closely to the type of employment – certain occupations e.g. fishing, construction, agriculture, arboriculture are more hazardous than others and consequently more workers are killed in these areas. The majority of employees in those sectors are men (often for historical reasons), so it is understandable that the majority of workplace fatalities are male. HSE activity is focussed on encouraging effective management of risk in the most hazardous sectors for fatalities and accidents rather than taking a gender based approach.
Finally, the UK has a long tradition of supporting working families, and we have a range of policies that support parents to take time off work when their children are born or placed with their family for adoption. Shared Parental Leave (SPL) was introduced in 2015 to support fathers to spend more time with their child in the first year. It allows eligible parents to share up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay in the first year. The scheme gives eligible working parents much more choice and flexibility to structure responsibility for childcare in a way that is best for them and their family.
As part of the 2019 Manifesto, the Government committed to make it easier for fathers to take paternity leave. Officials at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) are currently looking at the barriers to taking paternity leave and how we can realise this commitment, alongside evaluating the SPL policy and how the SPL scheme is being used in practice. They expect to report on findings in the spring.
I hope this information is helpful in addressing your concerns.
Government Equalities Office, Correspondence Team @WomenEqualities | www.gov.uk/geo