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Aus einer mehrstündigen Debatte im House of Lords am 24. Januar 2001

Der Text der gesamten Debatte ist unter

zu finden. Dem ging am 17.Januar 2001 eine lange Debatte zu Marriage und Family Values (Baroness Young, ...) voran.

Boys and Fatherhood

Lord Northbourne rose to call attention to the problems experienced by boys growing up without the care of a father and to the case for more resources to be devoted to preparing boys to become responsible citizens and fathers; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, first, I want to pay tribute to the Government for identifying and addressing the problem of social exclusion. Recently they accepted that many of the problems of social exclusion have their origins in the problems of men and boys. The purpose of this debate is to draw attention to the failures and frustrations of some men and boys in our society; to look at the causes; and to explore some solutions.

It is in no sense intended as a criticism of single mothers. I see single mothers as one of the groups who are the victims of the changes which have taken place in our society in the past two decades. I fully recognise that women and girls have problems, too, but today I want to focus your Lordships' attention on men and boys.

 Most men and boys in our society today are coping well with the seismic economic and social changes which have taken place in the past few decades. But a significant minority of boys are growing up uneducated, unsocialised and convinced that they have no future in the legitimate economy or as parents. In a recent survey conducted by Adrienne Katz of 1,400 boys, 13 per cent were found to have low self-esteem, low motivation and low confidence. Boys in that group said that they were uncertain about their responsibilities and depressed about their future. Twenty per cent of that group had been in trouble with the police; 11 per cent were deeply depressed or suicidal. I should point out that today three out of four suicides in our country are males. One of the group said, "There is no position in society for us to grow into". Those are significant words.

 This is an underclass of young men, often detached from the socialising influences of the family, often believing that they are unfairly excluded from the opportunities of the consumer society. If we want to reduce crime, substance abuse and domestic violence and to strengthen families, we must give these young men back hope and self-confidence. To do so should be an essential plank in the Government's policy of "Opportunities for All".

Many of these disillusioned and depressed young men are growing up in unstable or non-functional families. Many have been abandoned by their father. About 750,000 boys today have no contact with their father. Others have a poor relationship with their father, who may be violent or take little interest in them. Yet other fathers are working such long hours that they cannot give their sons the time they need. Those phenomena have been neatly described as the "Dad Deficit".

In the previous generation the number of people marrying halved; the number divorcing trebled; and the number of children born outside marriage quadrupled. What are the causes of all those changes? I suggest, first and foremost, changes in the nature of work due to technological change and globalisation. In the past 50 years, 2.8 million traditional full-time men's jobs have been lost, many of those in the past 10 years. The Armed Services have been decimated, the mines have been closed and there is little demand for strength and physical courage. A strong but uneducated young man can no longer count on being able to support his family. Some families in our country have had no man in work for three generations. It is hard to come back from that.

 There has been a reaction against Victorian moral values and shared responsibilities towards the pursuit of personal lifestyle. There has also been a shift in social attitudes which has tended to make women's and men's roles in the family interchangeable rather than complementary. Some men feel that they no longer have a role in their family of which they can be proud.

 We should not seek to place blame for those changes; indeed, change can and should be healthy and good. But we must blame ourselves for the fact that we have lamentably failed to manage this change. We have failed to recognise the damaging effect that the change has had on some groups. Perhaps I may give your Lordships some statistics from the General Household Survey in order to put the picture in proportion. Today 66 per cent of families are headed by a married couple; 9 per cent are headed by a cohabiting couple; and 25 per cent are headed by a lone parent, of whom nine-tenths are mothers. There are 1.7 million single mothers, who often struggle against the odds to bring up a child, and 1.5 million boys who live in families without a resident father. Children need the security, predictability and commitment of two parents who love them. Boys need fathers. Harriet Harman recently said to fathers: 

"Your children need not just your money--they need you".

 Why do fathers matter? There is overwhelming statistical evidence that boys with a poor or non-existent relationship with their fathers are more likely to be violent, to do less well in school and to be bullies or to be bullied, and they are three times more likely to be involved in serious or persistent crime. It is known that the single most effective way to help boys is to encourage their involvement with their fathers. But there are other factors. Families without a father tend to be poorer. Sixty-five per cent of single-parent families grow up in poverty and are statistically more prone to stress, accidents, illness and abuse. Boys who are abandoned or abused by their fathers have a deep psychological wound which I have come across again and again. They feel that they have been rejected by the person who should matter most in their lives. Boys also need male role models to socialise them, show them how to be decent men and how to treat women and teach them to cope with their instincts and emotions. A father's interest can motivate a boy to work in school.

 I interject here that the reason for socialising boys is not that they are so awful but that they have so much to offer. Some birth fathers will fail and set their boys a bad example. When that happens it may be better for a boy to have a surrogate or substitute father who can provide many, if not all, of the things that a birth father can offer. But from where are all these surrogate fathers to come? Only a limited number of suitable men are prepared to give other men's sons the love, time and interest that they need. Mentors, male school teachers and youth leaders can help, and I shall refer to them a little later.

What is the price of inaction? Any society that fails to nurture and socialise its children and pass on to the next generation accumulated knowledge, skills and experience burns up its social capital. The prognosis for such a society is not good, and it is a slippery slope. A boy who has not known loving care in the family will himself find it difficult to form a stable family or become a good father to his own children. The golden chain is broken. I believe that we need to look urgently at the way in which our society educates and socialises boys, especially those who are not lucky enough to have a caring father.

 I turn briefly to the ways in which society can help, under three headings: helping fathers, helping good relationships within the family and helping boys themselves. As to fathers, there is a need for a fundamental change of heart and recognition that, however significant may be the role of the mother, for a boy the father's role is also very important. The first person who needs to accept that is the father himself. Until he is convinced of the importance of his role, he will not prepare and train for it, perform it properly or make the sacrifices involved. But mothers, teachers, social workers, employers and government also need to recognise the importance of a committed father's role.

 To be a good father a man needs self-confidence, which primarily comes from being able to support his family, at least as we perceive the family today. It is difficult to see what other role a father can have. Fathers need a real job, not just a "MacJob". I suggest that to build self-esteem in fathers is an essential building block in socialising boys. Government should support caring fathers, especially those who are prepared to make a long-term commitment of some kind. Employers should recognise that fathers as well as mothers need time for their children.

I turn to relationships and family structures. Research shows that the outcomes for children depend to a great extent on relationships within the family. But it is also true that good relationships need the support of good family structures. Put another way, good relationships are much more difficult without good family structures. Relationships between parents are likely to thrive best if they are set in a long-term, committed partnership. At present, marriage appears to be the only formula devised by society to formalise and celebrate a long-term commitment. I think back to the debate last week. It is possible that there are better structures but we have not thought of them yet. Those who resist the support of marriage often talk of it as a kind of ball and chain, and to some no doubt it is. However, recent research in the United States shows that marriage can produce substantial benefits for both parents:

"On average married people have better health, longer life, more and better sex, greater wealth and better outcomes for their children".


Perhaps we need to look at the image of marriage and develop alternatives for those who are put off by the baggage which marriage has accumulated, or its cost.

I turn finally to support for boys as they grow up. A boy's failure in school can condemn him to failure for life. Boys need motivation to learn. The encouragement and interest of a father, or another man whom the boy admires, can be, and is, a powerful motivation for boys. There is an urgent need for more young men of integrity as teachers in our schools, especially at primary level, and as youth workers and mentors. Boys need adult male role models from whom they can learn how to behave and develop their masculinity in constructive rather than anti-social ways so that as they grow up they find legitimate outlets for qualities like courage, loyalty, the competitive instinct and love of adventure.

 As boys and girls grow up they both need opportunities gradually to grow away from the family towards independence. Essentially, they need somewhere to go and something to do outside the home, because hanging about the street corner is for most boys an almost certain precursor to juvenile crime and substance abuse. Boys need opportunities to develop self-confidence, social skills, friends, companionship and a sense of belonging. All boys particularly need support when they come to the transition from school to training or work, and from living at home to living independently.

It is a scandal that so many local authorities have been allowed to decimate their youth provision. In this context many of the better local authorities spend over £300 per young person per year. The figure for Brent is £18, and I am aware of others which are not dissimilar. It is a scandal that successive governments have allowed local authorities to sell off playing fields. As in France, every community should have access to playing fields, walks, cycle tracks, sports facilities and good youth services, both statutory and voluntary. There is a huge job of work to do in rebuilding facilities for young people.

The Government's Connections programme is an excellent initiative, but it is no good having such a programme if there is nothing with which to connect. The Connections programme must have the necessary services and opportunities for young people. There is a need for activities which boys and their fathers can share. Youth provision should not be an optional extra.

As an alternative to education, training or work there should be an option for every 16 and 17 year-old boy to spend six to 12 months in an environmental and community service corps. That would be voluntary, residential--away from home--and modestly paid. It would train young men in personal health, fitness and basic life skills and develop self-esteem and the ability to work in a team through adventure, endurance and calculated risk. Also, by giving back service to the community, it would be a stepping stone to independent living and enhance a young man's confidence and social skills and therefore his subsequent employability. A regular routine, feeling valued, friends and a sense of purpose would reduce exclusion and depression and enhance future prospects for a young person. The scheme would cost money. But so does building prisons. Surely it is better to spend money building up people than building prisons.

 Finally, there is the new citizenship and PSHE curriculum. That offers a powerful motive for changing attitudes and developing skills. I believe that every child before he leaves school should learn about the parenting needs of children and the consequential responsibilities of parenthood; the need to prepare for parenthood; that in the age of effective contraception, to conceive an unwanted child is a form of child abuse on the part of both parties; the importance of considering and respecting other people's needs; and how to communicate with others, and so on.

 Some of the changes which I have suggested may seem difficult and some may seem impossible. But, on the analogy of global warming, if the outcomes of past and present policy are leading us to disaster, the sooner we start to address the impossible the better. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I am sure that, with the support of the whole House, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, in introducing the debate has used any time flexibility. I hope that other noble Lords will ensure that they keep to their allotted times.

5.52 p.m.

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for instigating the debate and for introducing it with such vigour and commitment. His concerns for young people are well known. He has covered much ground today already. His timing of the debate is, whether by chance or foresight, excellent, preceding, as it does, a conference tomorrow at the National Children's Bureau entitled "From Lads to Dads" which will explore issues relevant to the role of fathers. As a mother of two sons I am particularly interested in issues related to the development of boys. I, too, believe that they should and have much to offer.

Today I shall examine three questions. First, who are disadvantaged boys? Secondly, what may be the impact of that disadvantage? Thirdly, what are the implications for national and local policy and practice? The area is extremely complex and worthy of much research and discussion. I look forward very much to the contributions in the debate today.

Your Lordships will know that there is a vast literature on the emotional lives of children, suggesting that in many cases boys are not encouraged to talk about or show emotion, or to communicate with empathy. That is a real potential problem between fathers and their children, and surely even more so if other disadvantages are present.

So what is disadvantage? This is not necessarily material, although it may be; the materially well-off may be emotionally disadvantaged. Disadvantage is when circumstances so impinge on a person that his self-esteem becomes damaged which may lead to destructive behaviour. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, vividly described that. Boys are subject to unrealistic media portrayals of masculinity and manliness, expectations of being tough, male unemployment, families without fathers or positive male role models, bullying and discrimination of many kinds. It is little wonder that so many boys perform badly at school in their early years at least, and that mental health problems and suicide rates are high among young men. A boy growing up without a father figure may be more dependent on other role models. He may not have role models such as teachers at school. He may be vulnerable to distorted impressions of what masculinity is. Women are often charged with the affective, caring parts of schooling and of rearing children.

When I was involved in child development courses in schools I knew only one male teacher of child development. I knew only one boy who ever took the course. We cannot afford to exclude boys and men like that. They need positive encouragement to think of themselves as jointly responsible for parenting. That is increasing.

 What is the impact of disadvantage? I believe that there may be confusion with identity and the lowering of self-esteem. If people do not feel good about themselves, they are less likely to care about others. They may turn to risk-taking and unsociable, even violent, behaviour.

 We are concerned in this country with teenage pregnancy rates. The Government have set up a special unit to investigate the issue. In my experience girls do not get themselves pregnant. Do we know enough about the fathers? Are they disadvantaged? What is going on here? It is sad to be an unintentional parent; it is difficult to be an immature one. Boys can of course walk away. Many do. Surely, we need more research and interventions for young men, as well as young women, in relation to teenage pregnancy and more education about relationships, including parenting for both boys and girls.

I believe that young people are mainly responsible and care and that they deserve a voice. They worry about making good relationships. Recent research into young people's health concerns by the Institute of Education stated that, 

"the most striking finding was an abiding concern amongst young people about the effects of relationships with family and friends on their sense of well-being"
and a need for more emotional support.

Research by the National Children's Bureau on pregnancy and parenthood showed that boys in public care wanted to get married and have children early, whereas boys in school wanted to delay marriage and parenthood. The boys in care wanted the love and the fathering they had not had. Sadly there was little evidence that they knew how to go about it or how to handle complex relationships. Work among young fathers in prisons by the Trust for the Study of Adolescence--I declare an interest as a trustee--showed a desire to be a good father and a view that life skills education in prison was of more use than many other activities there. These pieces of research incline me to think that we need to listen more to what young people say they need and to base our responses on actual needs.

 What can be done to help? Programmes such as Sure Start may well make a contribution to helping disadvantaged children. Sex and relationships and citizenship education in schools encourages young people to discuss together their hopes and expectations about relationships. The national healthy schools standard encourages incentives for inclusive education and the creation of a positive ethos in schools where good relationships are emphasised and encouraged. There are examples in communities which help boys to explore issues relating to masculinity and fathering, such as the Active Fathers project run by the Community Education Development Centre in Coventry. Such initiatives should be encouraged and, very importantly, evaluated so that we learn what is working. As a basis for action, more research should be carried out into the relationship between disadvantage and parenting.

 We have touched on a key issue of parenting for society. Parenting is a difficult job in the best of circumstances. We need to support and encourage men and women to do the job well and to develop incentives, in particular for disadvantaged youth.

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I wonder if I might draw to the attention of the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, the fact that we have now gained three minutes.

6 p.m.

Lord Weatherill: My Lords, this debate is an extension of the debate that we had last Wednesday on marriage and the family, initiated by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. We are greatly indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for giving us this further opportunity to debate a subject of very great interest and importance for the future of our nation. However, this debate is rather more specific. It concentrates on the importance of fathers in families as role models for preparing boys to become good fathers, and thereafter good citizens.

As the Member of Parliament for Croydon North East, I recollect attending a function in my constituency, when I said to a young man aged about 11, "What are you going to do when you grow up?", to which he replied, "I want to be like my Dad". There your Lordships have the answer. There can be no doubt that the influence and example of our parents shapes our future attitudes and our success in life--sometimes, sadly, our failures--and, in addition, of course, the future success or perhaps failure of our nation. Of course, it is true that for the first few years of a child's life the influence of a mother is paramount. Your Lordships may recall the words of James Barrie:

"The God to whom small boys say their prayers has a face very like their mothers'".

But later in a child's life, at about the age of seven, the father becomes the role model for boys.

In last weeks' debate, and again today, it has been pointed out that some 25 per cent of our country's children live in one-parent families--about 22 per cent of them with their mothers rather than with their fathers. We may not like it, but it is a fact of life. It is therefore essential that we seek to fill this gap. That is the importance of today's debate.......

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