It’s only taken a day for 2018 to throw a curveball to disabled people in the UK, throwing students and working class people under the same bus for good measure. Prime Minister Theresa May has decided to appoint Toby Young, journalist and son of Baron Young of Dartington, to lead a new Universities Regulator.
I’ve got many reasons why this is, well, wrong. Firstly, some of the information being used against him does go back five or six years, whilst some of it is far more recent. I’m very aware that past opinions and comments can change through the course of someone’s working life. However, what I’ve taken from this is that so long as certain threats are only directed at certain groups, they can be ignored. Take, for example, his 2012 column in The Spectator, in which he called for Sir Michael Gove to write off the Equality Act entirely and bring back old-school O-Levels. Why?
“Any exam that isn’t “accessible” to a functionally illiterate troglodyte with a mental age of six will judged to be “elitist” and therefore forbidden” by Labour politicians.”
Just take a moment and think about this sentence, how utterly horrific and demonising it is to disabled children and adults, and then realise that this man has been put in charge of a body regulating universities.
I’ll be the first to admit that I wouldn’t have made it to university – and wouldn’t have made it through university, without assistance of some sort. I’m not alone in this, and it’s the norm for disabled people to require support to get on with day-to-day life. To suggest removing that support is bad enough, but it gets worse – of course it gets worse.
In a 2015 article entitled The Fall of the Meritocracy – a term coined by his father, I should add – Young looks into “behavioural genetics”, linking socio-economic status with IQ (a difficult measure of intelligence as it is), focusing on the heritability of success as genetic and forming a Social Darwinist approach to success. Choosing to move away from suggestion of welfare programmes, universal basic incomes and actually addressing problems felt by working-class people, he suggests something rather dangerous: he considers the idea of genetically controlling intelligence, offering this to “parents on low incomes with below-average IQs”. He asks whether this is “so different from screening embryos in vitro so parents with hereditary diseases can avoid having a child with the same condition” and yet, it is notably different.
This takes a dangerous step into the realm of eugenics, and favours a system which removes the difficulties that can be faced when teaching individuals who may learn differently or have different intellectual grasps. I’m a University postgraduate but my family is mostly made up of dyslexics, and yet they’ve managed to find their successes in lieu of academic ‘success’. Basing an individual’s success on how far they get through education is problematic in itself, but deciding that in the future we should just ‘make everyone intelligent’ won’t solve the problems faced by working-class families, and will only work towards the slow extinction of people with certain disabilities. Down’s Syndrome is already under attack in several countries, Iceland being high up that list, with no real consideration put into place as to whether someone with Down’s has a sufficient ‘quality of life’ – which I’m sure that many do indeed.
Back in 2012 again, in his Spectator article directed to Gove – which has disappeared from the website, strangely enough – Young said that the concept of inclusivity is “one of those ghastly, politically correct words that have survived the demise of New Labour.”
“Schools have got to be ‘inclusive’ these days. That means wheelchair ramps, the complete works of Alice Walker in the school library (though no Mark Twain) and a Special Educational Needs Department that can cope with everything from dyslexia to Münchausen syndrome by proxy.”
Support is something abhorred by this man. The idea that individuals with disabilities can succeed is something that he cannot accept, and would rather abandon us than bring us forward. In his world of education, there is no place for disabled people.
. . .
It’s not easy fighting for disabled people at school or university. I, and many others, will stand by that fact. I’ve spent many hours at tribunals, many hours putting into place methods to represent and effectively speak out about the struggles faced by disabled people. Whether it’s in classes and lectures, whether it’s ramps or elevators, talking about access already makes you a bad person, and placing this man at the head of this board makes that uphill fight so much worse.
Yet again, we see a pseudo-celebrity rise the ranks of politics to take the head of an area in which they are woefully unqualified and remarkably dangerous in. He’s found setting up and running a free-school much harder than anticipated, stepping down from the West London Free School Trust in May of 2016, and yet now he is running the administration of applying market forces to higher education, which indicates that we aren’t the focus.
We’re nothing but consumers now – and under this Government, the voice of the student, the voice of the university, the voices of disabled people and working class people in studies? We can’t be sure they matter, so we must make sure we’re heard, whether they like it or not.