I absolutely do. I have mentioned what Age UK has found about 29% of over-75s, and £154.50 out of a fixed income will push those just above the line into poverty.
Television is a bridge to the outside world for the 2 million people over 75, of whom almost half are disabled and many others have serious health conditions. When mobility is difficult and people struggle even to get to the end of their street, the TV will often be the only companionship, entertainment and stimulation available. The United Kingdom is facing a loneliness epidemic among our elderly, and it is not good enough that one in four see a television as their only source of companionship. In fact, the only human voices they hear are from the television, and it is important for our sanity that we hear human voices. It is fundamentally wrong for this Government, through this policy, to take away the little bit that people do have. Many of our elderly in this nation are not online, and those who are may struggle with technology, as I do.
This policy, which will do so much harm, is clear evidence that the Government have not brought austerity to an end, but are driving forward their heartless and unnecessary austerity agenda. The UK is spending less on public expenditure as a percentage of GDP: it has now dropped to just over 40%—40.8%—from 48%. This is one of the lowest in the developed world when compared with similar nations such as Germany and Finland, which spend 4% and 12% more of their GDP than we do. How can this Tory Government justify not continuing to fund the financing required to maintain free TV licences for over-75s?
Labour has a clear alternative, which is not to force the BBC into an impossible position where it has no choice but to scrap or severely cut free TV licences for the over-75s. A Labour Government would commit to delivering free TV licences to the over-75s, providing support and company for some of the most vulnerable of our people.
I call on the Government to step in and to deliver their manifesto pledge and their promise to protect free TV licences for the over-75s to ensure that those people are not forced to make an unacceptable choice between what little companionship they have and living in the cold and having less food on their plates.