MATT O’CONNOR, founder of Fathers4Justice, calls for Government action in the wake of an early-deaths scandal
THE Sunday Express last week published alarming figures which showed that “non-resident” parents, almost exclusively fathers, are three times more likely to die early after separation. Since 2003, 8,515 non-resident parents have died compared to 3,090 resident parents.
The death rate is nearly 19 times the number of British forces killed in Afghanistan. Yet, despite a request, no causes of death were given by the Department for Work and Pensions.
If anything demonstrated the lack of concern for the welfare of Britain’s fathers, it is the failure of the Government to launch a full-scale inquiry into these figures and uncover the truth behind them.
If these deaths had occurred on a British road there would be an outcry, an inquiry and steps taken to make that road safer. So why does nobody care about Britain’s fathers?
When I met Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, a few years ago, he told me the issue of fathers and family breakdown was a “political taboo”. He was right.
For too long the Government has demonised fathers, labelling them “deadbeats” and “feckless” for cheap political capital, while denying them and their children the most basic of human rights: the right to family life.
To add insult to injury the Conservative Party betrayed fathers after breaking a 2010 election pledge to introduce shared parenting.
Politicians can’t even bring themselves to mention the f-word, “father”, either in political discourse or in legislation, where the role of fathers has been abolished legally in the 1989 Children Act, biologically in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 and emotionally in our secret family courts.
Fathers are even called “non-resident” parents by the state in a euphemism cynically designed to mask the anti-father discrimination inherent in the system.
Over the past 20 years, the cancer of family breakdown has eaten away at the role of men and fathers in society.
Millions of children are growing up without the love and support of a father. One in four children live in a fatherless home. Family breakdown costs £44billion a year; more than our entire defence budget.
The destructive outcomes that flow from the exclusion of men from families are hiding in plain sight yet politicians refuse to address them.
Worse still, men have been ruthlessly pursued by agencies such as the Child Support Agency, whose Orwellian powers demonise and criminalise them as it pursues a broken child-maintenance model.
At Fathers4Justice we witness on a daily basis the suffering inflicted on men by the state.
The removal of children from a father is one of the most punitive sanctions the state can take against an individual yet, over the past 20 years, this has become the norm and has created a new “gender apartheid” which has reduced fathers to the status of McDads, sperm banks and cashpoints.
The outcomes are catastrophic. Men have been exiled from their children, excluded from their homes, pushed into extreme poverty and left depressed and suicidal.
It is no coincidence that the biggest killer of men under 45 is suicide.
I know because in 2001 I had lost my children and home after a difficult divorce. I can only describe the experience of being torn from my children as a “living bereavement”.
Unable to find help, I plunged into a dark pit of despair and at one point, with just £15 left in my pocket, had given up.
The pain of living had become intolerable. It was only a small picture of my two young boys in my wallet that saved me.
I managed to pick myself up and start Fathers4Justice but thousands of other men are not so lucky.
The spectre of depression and suicide is a silent, serial killer of men yet few people acknowledge the role family breakdown has in these deaths.
That’s why I am calling for a Minister for Men, to champion the rights of men and fathers, and give us a voice in government.
We can only begin to address the crisis through open debate and by taking meaningful steps to ensure fathers are recognised in law and enjoy shared parenting and child support rights.
WE ALSO need a safety net to support men and a major public health initiative to address what author Warren Farrell told me is the “glass cellar” (where men are at the top but also at the bottom); we die younger, are more likely to be homeless, be victims of violence, be murdered and incarcerated.
In particular we must address issues such as fatherlessness, divorce, depression, male suicide, prostate cancer, male infertility and the worrying trend in low testosterone, which affects one in four men.
These common-sense initiatives can only lead to better outcomes for our children, our families and our country, and significantly reduce the costs of family breakdown and men’s health issues to the taxpayer.
In the meantime, thousands of families in Fathers4Justice will write to Mr Duncan Smith calling for a full inquiry into the shocking death rates among separated fathers and remind him of the words of civil rights activist Frederick Douglass who said: “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”