TV Licences for over-75S

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:46 pm on 8th May 2019.

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Photo of Tom Watson Tom Watson Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 1:46 pm, 8th May 2019

What a great campaigner Jack Jones was. I thank my hon. Friend for raising his contribution. His legacy is the National Pensioners Convention, which is solidly against these proposals. I am sure we will talk about it later in the debate.

That is why the Government’s refusal to honour their manifesto pledge and save free TV licences is so cruel. My co-signatories on this motion show the degree of cross-party consensus on this matter. We are calling on the Government to rethink and change course urgently. The threat to TV licences is part and parcel of the Conservative austerity agenda, which has weakened our social fabric and impacted the most vulnerable in our communities. Our social contract, whereby people who work hard all their lives are afforded comfort in old age, is being slowly but certainly unpicked. Free TV licences are a small but important part of that social contract. Taking them away will force older people into poverty and leave many more feeling isolated and alone. Rather than standing by their manifesto promise and standing up for dignity and comfort in old age, the Government are taking it away.

Now a little history. As my right hon. Friend David Hanson said, the TV licence concession for over-75s was introduced just over 20 years ago by the Labour Government as part of a robust package of reforms to support our pensioners and boost their quality of life. The universal benefit was a result of a long campaign to show our oldest pensioners society’s appreciation. Some 4.5 million people over the age of 75 continue to benefit from free TV licences today. Although Labour did not commit explicitly in our last manifesto to continue that policy, our commitment was of course implicit. In case there is any misunderstanding among Ministers, let me be clear. If the Government fall before the natural end of the Parliament in 2022, Labour will honour the Conservative party manifesto pledge to protect TV licences until then.

Despite their manifesto promise of 2017, the Government had already set the stage for the concession to be cut, as my hon. Friend Mr Cunningham said. In 2015, they outsourced the responsibility for the TV licence concession on to the BBC as part of the charter renewal process.