A band of brothers

Suicide is the second most common cause of death among men under 35. This must change.

When you look at the data about the lives of men in comparision with women, the statistics paint a clear picture. Starting at the most extreme end, of the 6,045 people in the UK that took their own life in 2011, 4,552 of them were men. This works out at over 12 men per day. More men under 35 died from suicide in the UK than road accidents, murder and HIV/Aids combined.

In education, there is a well-documented gap between boys and girls; both in performance and aspiration. In 2011 the gap between the proportion of girls gaining A* or A grades at GCSE and that of boys hit a record 6.7 per cent, up from just 1.5 per cent in 1989. Just 30 per cent of male school-leavers applied to university in 2012, compared with 40 per cent of their female counterparts. Boys are "permanently excluded" from school at a rate four times higher than for girls.

As for crime, men are perpetrators of over 90 per cent of violent crime in the UK. If you believe, as abandofbrothers do, that "hurt people, hurt people" and that violence is a manifestation of prior psychological woundings on the part of the perpetrator rather than the expression of an inherent evil, then this too points to the disadvantage of men and boys.

As a society, can we ignore these statistics? We face huge challenges in the world on almost every level – economic, ecological and social. If male and female are indeed the two wings of humanity, can we afford to keep flying round in circles? Can we continue to ignore the cost of damaged men? This cost is felt in economic terms (if men were to commit crime at the same levels as women we would save £42bn a year based on Home Office figures) and also in a unmeasured and immensurable social cost.

"If the young men are not initiated into the tribe, they will burn down the village just to feel a little heat." – Ancient African Proverb.

Arguably, where masculinity is most in crisis is amongst young men at the bottom of the socio-economic pile. Abandofbrothers would argue that this is a failing on the part of society. The "job" of giving young men a sense of purpose and meaning, so that they feel connected to (rather than resentful of) those around them is crucial, and one that cannot be done solely by employees of the state.

At abandofbrothers, our mission is to offer young men a rites of passage experience and mentoring to help them make the difficult transition into healthy adulthood. We give them a place to heal, to explore and be encouraged not just to "become a man" but to become their own man. We do this by creating empathic communities of older men who will give themselves in service to mentoring and supporting young men who need it.

To create these communities, we connect potential mentors to their hearts, enable them to find a resolution to their own emotional traumas so that they can better attend to the needs of their communities, and especially, the young.  It is time consuming and emotionally difficult. It’s also the most rewarding thing I have ever done in my life.

My own first son is due to make an appearance in the world in the next few weeks. When he asks me what I was doing in the early part of the 21st century, when it became apparent that we faced huge challenges in creating a sustainable future, I will be proud to say I was one of the few, the lucky few, who were engaged in trying to create connected, resilient and joyful communities that were better equipped to weather the storms ahead.

For more information on abandofbrothers, please see www.abandofbrothers.org.uk

A man alone on a backstreet in Liverpool. Photograph: Getty Images.

Nathan Roberts is the Chief Executive of abandofbrothers.

Photo: Getty
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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.