Free TV licences for over-75s were introduced in 2000 by a Labour Government—one of the many policies introduced by Labour to deliver a better quality of life for the people of this nation. Many of the people who voted Conservative in the 2017 general election likely did so expecting the Tory Government to continue to provide free TV licences for people over 75, as it was in the party’s manifesto, alongside promises to keep free bus passes, eye tests and prescriptions for the duration of this Parliament. If the Government were one who kept their manifesto promises, I could happily end my speech now. Sadly, as with many of the promises made by this Government, that manifesto pledge has been broken, and it once again falls on Labour and other Opposition Members to explain to the Government why the policy of scrapping free TV licences for over-75s will cause great harm to some of the most vulnerable in our society.
As I expected, the Minister made out that it is not the Government’s decision to scrap free TV licences for over-75s but the BBC’s, and the BBC is now the one in charge of licensing. While that is technically correct, the reality is that this Conservative Government have unloaded their pledge to the elderly of this nation on to the BBC—outsourcing without the funding. Essentially, they are saying to the BBC, “You fund the free licences and decide whether they should continue”. The Tory Government know full well that the BBC will not have the financial capabilities to maintain this programme and eventually will need to cancel the free TV licences. This is not the fault of the BBC. The expected cost of the free licences will be £745 million by 2021-22, but I would add that under this Government, due to austerity, life expectancy is predicted to decline.
To put the outsourcing by this Government into context, it is a fifth of the BBC’s budget and the equivalent of what is spent today on BBC 2, BBC 3, BBC 4, the BBC News channel, CBBC and CBeebies. That would be the cost in funding and programming. A broadcaster should not be expected to take on the role that is clearly within the realm of a Government Department. This is a Tory Government using smoke and mirrors.
If free TV licences were to be scrapped, 2.4 million older people living entirely on their own would lose their TV licence, and a means-tested system would lead to 1.6 million losing their licence. In my constituency alone, 7,100 people could lose their licence, and £1 million would be robbed out of the pockets of those vulnerable people. Age UK estimates that over 2 million over-75s would need to go without a TV licence or be forced to give up essentials such as heating or even food.