One word says it all…
That word was ‘deserve’, and the utterer was Michael Gove. Got my blood boiling. Eddie Mair was quizzing him about the Tory manifesto on yesterday’s PM programme on Radio Four, and part of that discussion centred on the Tory commitment to introduce means testing for the winter fuel allowance.
Gove made a throw-away comment about his parents being elderly but still perfectly capable of filling in a form which would determine whether they ‘deserved’ the payments.
So we’re surfs now
Let’s look at the word deserve. According to the Cambridge English dictionary, it means: “To have earned or to be given something because of the way you have behaved or the qualities you have.” It comes from the Latin ‘deservire’, to serve well or zealously.
The word ‘deserve’ is a relic from feudal days when your lord would decide whether you ‘deserved’ to be rewarded or punished for your loyal service, or the lack thereof.
Michael Gove’s use of the word ‘deserve’, reveals both his personal philosophy, and his party’s agenda. It speaks of a society split between the rulers and the ruled. It also speaks of a society in which the ruled are divided between the unworthy, undeserving, scrounging poor and the virtuous contributing majority, the ‘hard-working families’, if you will.
I’d like to remind Michael Gove that no matter how much he might like to believe otherwise, the days the robber barons are past. Though we are, technically, subjects of the Queen, our unwritten constitution affords us the status of ‘citizens’. Let’s see what that word means.
Citizen: “A person who is a member of a particular country and who has rights because of being born there or because of being given rights, or a person who lives in a particular town or city.”
This is a good word, and hey, look at that – we have “rights” – moral and/or legal entitlements. It turns out that the winter fuel payment is an entitlement conferred by the welfare state in accordance with the qualification criteria agreed by the democratically elected government.
Rewards for the so-called ‘deserving’ are subject to the whim of the bestower. As citizens, our rights are non-negotiable, and they entitle us to an equal stake in the society to which we belong. The role of our public institutions is to protect, and administer our rights, without bias or favour. Deserving has nothing to do with it, and the fact that Mr Gove doesn’t understand the distinction speaks volumes.