100 years on from the birth of Michael Young, equality returns to the top of the agenda

Date: 10 November 2015

  • The Young Foundation marks the centennial year of the birth of its founder, Michael Young, by calling for the end of meritocracy
  • New CEO, Glenys Thornton (Baroness Thornton), will call on powerful elites to “loosen their grip and open their minds”
  • Meritocracy entrenches inequality for as long as it only values “the qualities and skills of a small group of mostly rich, white, heterosexual men”, Thornton will say.

With the Conservatives hailing themselves as “the party of equality”, 2015 marks a year of renewed Government commitment to tackle today’s most deep-rooted causes of inequality.

In her first major speech as CEO of The Young Foundation, Glenys Thornton is calling on powerful elites to “loosen their grip and open their minds” at the Michael Young Centenary Conference on Wednesday. It is part of the do-tank’s moves to address the “social and economic time bomb” of rising inequality.

Glenys Thornton, former Equalities and Health Minister, will on Wednesday draw on Michael Young’s criticisms of the idea that meritocracy is a vehicle for equal opportunity. She will say that equal opportunity will never be realised on the basis of merit “if that merit only recognises and values the qualities and skills of a small group of mostly rich, white, heterosexual men”.

Michael Young is recognised as one of the world’s most creative and influential social innovators and visionaries. Today, The Young Foundation is continues his legacy through a range of cutting-edge projects in growth and regeneration, gender, education and health. The #MY100 Conference on Wednesday will bring together thinkers and doers from across the social innovation and equality movements. It will debate what can deliver change in the face of rising inequality including arguing the case for ending meritocracy.

As well as this intervention on inequality, Glenys Thornton will highlight a new partnership between The Young Foundation and the Mondragon Corporation. Partnering with a social innovation organisation for the first time, Mondragon will look to The Young Foundation to develop business opportunities based on common goals of cooperation, participation, social responsibility and innovation.

Glenys Thornton, CEO of The Young Foundation, will say at the#MY100 Conference:

“Given the consensus that rising inequality and democratic disengagement represent a social and economic time bomb, today’s powerful elites – whether in politics, business or civil society – must loosen their grip and open their minds.

“We can see today that the elite, self-serving and exclusive meritocracy that Michael Young predicted in 1954 not only hinders mobility and equality but is making things worse. Equal opportunities for all, and the benefits this could bring, simply won’t be delivered on the basis of merit if that merit only recognises and values the qualities and skills of a small group of rich, white, heterosexual men.

“As a society it is critical we start to recognise and place greater value on a much wider range of people, and the skills and insights they bring. If we don’t, we will see further unravelling of our social fabric and economic potential.

“100 years on from the birth of Michael Young, we must take a hard look at our society; together through disruptive social innovation we can reverse the current tide of inequality.”