SUNDAY COLUMN: Fathers’ Lives Matter
Anne Marie Waters
Sunday June 21st 2020
It was the saddest and most devastating moment of my life so far when my dad passed away. I was 14, and I have missed out on decades that should have spent with him. However, I’m still grateful for the years we had. I don’t have a father but I do care about them, and the fact that they are so often left out in the cold. In my ideal society, work would be split between parents, with fathers spending as much time with children as mothers. I know this wouldn’t be easy to achieve but perhaps it’s something worth working towards.
Today is father’s day and we at For Britain wish Dads all over Britain a pleasant and peaceful day – hopefully spent with their children.
I’m proud of For Britain’s policies on levelling the playing field between mums and dads when couples divorce or separate. Although the law makes no distinction between mum and dad, or men and women, it has ruled that it is in the best interests of children to stay in the family home and live with their primary carer. The primary carer, in most instances, is deemed to be the mother. This results in both children and family home (for the children to live in) being awarded to the mother. There is no easy answer to this, and UK family law rightly centres the best interests of the child, but in practice the same law gives an unfair advantage to mothers.
There is also a major flaw at the heart of the system that allows mothers to prevent fathers seeing their children. They’re not allowed to do so by law, but the processes and procedures for enforcing laws are so burdensome as to be prohibitive: expensive and time-consuming, the father usually does not see his children while he’s engaged in court battles.
This needs reform. If we are going to bring fathers back in the children’s lives, let’s start by ensuring that good dads are not kept from away from them by the law. It is in the best interests of both parent and child.
For Britain will introduce the new legal concept of parents’ rights (and responsibilities). Family lawyers will find this a radical legal transformation. At present, the law centres on the right of the child to a relationship with their parent, we are proposing that parents have a similar right to a relationship with their children. It will alter the legal position of parents, while still protecting the rights of children (who will retain the current rights while obtaining new protections).
When we first began to discuss these issues as a party, one of our activists in the north of England, Gary, told me that men suffer enormously when kept away from their children. He said this is a cause of suicide among men, and after looking at it in more detail, it looks like he’s right.
It is fairly common knowledge that suicide is higher among men than women. In a comprehensive report on suicide in the UK and Republic of Ireland, the Samaritans reveal the following facts.
In 2018, there were 6,507 suicides in the UK. Men are three times as likely to end their lives as women (four times as likely in the Republic of Ireland.) The rate of death by suicide among under 25s that year increased by 23% on the previous year. The figure rose to 730.
The group most likely to commit suicide is men aged 45 – 49.
What can explain this?
It is interesting to start by noting that the age most likely to commit suicide is the same age most likely to divorce. It is probable then that a high number of men are committing suicide as a result of divorce (in many cases losing the family home and regular access to their children).
In an analysis as to why male suicide is so high at this age, we must include the fact that it often coincides with family breakdown, and this must be addressed with the father’s interests in mind.
A BBC special report in to the issue in 2019 highlights other reasons men are thought to commit suicide at higher rates than women.
The last data available from the UN is from 2016, and this shows 793,000 suicides worldwide that year. Most of them men. This is a long-standing pattern.
Jill Harkavy-Friedman, vice-president of research for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said “As long as we’ve been recording it, we’ve seen this disparity”.
The report contains the following information about suicide disparity between the sexes.
- Suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45 in the UK
- 40% of countries have more than 15 suicide deaths per 100,000 men; only 1.5% show a rate that high for women
- Women are more likely to suffer depression, but men are more likely to have suicidal intentions
- Men are more likely to succeed at a suicide attempt than women
- Women are more likely to seek help from a doctor than men
- Men are twice as likely to be alcohol dependent than women – alcohol is a known contributor to suicide
Other contributing factors include men apparently being less willing to ask for help or discuss problems, and while this may be true, there is also a public negativity towards men in modern society that doesn’t treat their problems seriously when they do. This negativity towards men cannot be helping matters in a society where they are excluded and shunned as fathers, and find themselves at a serious disadvantage when seeking to spend time with their children.
The campaign group Fathers for Justice wrote to the Prime Minister today asking for violence towards men to be taken more seriously. It also calls for unlawful denial of contact to their children to be made a criminal offence. All of these proposals need serious consideration as we strive to make things fairer between the sexes.
Various countries have now began looking in to this more carefully and programmes have been initiated to help men with personal problems.
In wider society, loneliness is a known contributor to suicide, and this has exacerbated in recent years as communities and families break down.
There is a big problem here, and For Britain is determined to bring it to public consciousness and prepare comprehensive and fair policies to redress the balance.
I have long campaigned against the unfair treatment of women in various institutions and walks of life, and it is right that we do the same for men.
This isn’t a day to dwell on hardships however, but to recognise the importance of Dad and to celebrate him for a day. We should work to bring him back in to family life and celebrate him more often.
Happy Fathers Day!
Anne Marie Waters
Text ‘Join’ to 60777