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

I think it is, and my hon. Friend makes a good point. I would answer more fully, but I am already running over time.

Keeping TV licences free for all over-75s would require unprecedented cuts to the BBC’s spending on broadcasting and content. This is political cowardice: if the Government want to cut free TV licences for over-75s, they should say so—they should include it in the manifesto and let the public decide on the policy. If the Government want to cut the BBC’s budget by a fifth, they should say so—they should put it in the manifesto and let the public have their say at the ballot box.

The BBC has consulted on a range of options, from means testing, which would still see 3 million households lose out, to raising the qualifying age to 80, which would see 1.5 million households lose their free licence. The conclusions of that consultation are still outstanding, but one thing is clear: if these cuts go ahead in any of the suggested forms, the responsibility will lie firmly at the Government’s door. Passing the buck to the BBC was not a decision made in the national interest, as my hon. Friend Chris Bryant has said, or for the benefit of older people; it was designed to give the Government political cover to cut a popular policy. This is austerity by stealth. The Conservative party made a commitment to the older people of this country, so now the Government should act and take both the policy and the financial responsibility for funding free TV licences for over-75s back in house—the two should not be separated.

The BBC has been put in an impossible position by this Government, being asked either to make swingeing cuts to the programmes we all know and love or to take free TV away from older people. That is why when the National Pensioners Convention gathered to protest against scrapping the concession earlier this year, they did not convene outside Broadcasting House, but met outside the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. Those protestors know the cost of losing free TV licences.

Age UK’s analysis shows that scrapping the concession completely could push more than 50,000 pensioners below the poverty line. For many, losing £154.50 from their pensions is a frightening prospect and it could mean being forced to choose between heating, eating or having a TV at home. This debate over free TV licences is an indicator of the Government’s broader policies for pensioners. For nine years, Tory austerity has saved money on the back of our most vulnerable citizens. By outsourcing responsibility for paying for TV licences, this Government will be cutting £745 million in 2021-22. That is in addition to the £220 million the Government will be saving in the same year through changes to pension credit. That is nearly a billion pounds of cuts the Government are making, coming directly out of the pockets of pensioners.