In Parliament this week I gave my support to the Labour motion to keep free TV licences free for over 75s.
This Government has broken its manifesto promise to commit to free TV licences for over-75s until 2022, and now millions of older people across the country are facing losing their free TV licences. If current concessions on TV licences for over 75s end, over 5,000 households in Newport East would lose their free licences. Across Gwent this figure rises to 33,050 households – with a combined annual cost to the households affected of almost £5 million.
A number of elderly constituents have written to me this week telling me how worried they are at the prospect of losing their free licence. One 75 year old resident wrote to me to highlight that she and her husband ‘can barely manage to live’ on their basic old age pension, and would have to give up TV altogether if the free licence were withdrawn. She is not alone, and for many of our pensioners who have worked hard and paid their taxes over decades, losing their TV licence is a worry they could do without. I’d urge the Government to think again and honour their manifesto promise to fund free TV licences for over-75s.
Free TV licences are an important benefit for older people who suffer disproportionately from loneliness and social isolation. The Campaign to End Loneliness found that 40% of older people say their television is their main source of company. Age UK has found that over two million over-75s would have to go without TV or cut back on essentials such as heating or eating if the concession is scrapped, and the change would push 50,000 pensioners below the poverty line. 1.6 million over-75s with a disability, many of whom have serious mobility issues and may not be easily able to leave their homes, could lose their TV licence if the benefit is scrapped altogether.
The 2017 Conservative Manifesto promised to “maintain all other pensioner benefits, including free bus passes, eye tests, prescriptions and TV licences, for the duration of this Parliament”. However, the Government had already outsourced this social policy by shifting the cost of these licences to the BBC in its 2015 Royal Charter. From 2018/19 onwards, responsibility for the policy and funding of licence fee concessions will move over to the BBC, who will be singularly responsible from June 2020. The BBC can decide what to do with the benefit from 2020 and they are consulting on a number of options including scrapping the free TV licence concession altogether, raising the eligible age to 80 and means testing it, for example by linking it to pension credit. Labour opposed this move at the time, and throughout the passage of the Digital Economy Act.