I am pleased to be able to add my voice to this significant debate. I make no apology for the fact that what I am about to say may cover some things that have already been mentioned. Scrapping the free TV licence for over-75s will have a significant impact on people’s lives. For millions of over-75s, the TV is not just a box—or even a screen—in the corner; it is their constant companion and window on the world. For some, television is their main form of company, as we have heard, and it plays a central role in their lives.
The Tory manifesto stated that the party would maintain the promise to provide free TV licences for the over-75s, but the Government have changed their mind with no apology. They have created this situation by pushing the free TV licence scheme on to the BBC. For me, that shows disregard and disrespect for our older population. The BBC is considering taking away the rights of those people to free TV licences. This is the Government’s responsibility, not the BBC’s. We need to preserve the quality stations that the BBC presents.
If the change goes ahead, it could lead to increased loneliness among over-75s, because more than a million older people say that the TV is their main source of company. The change could cause poverty; research by Age UK has found that scrapping the free TV licence could push more pensioners into poverty. In my constituency, there are 4,790 households that include people over the age of 75.
The change will affect people with disability, because people with restricted mobility rely heavily on the TV for companionship and entertainment. It also ties in to digital exclusion. More than half of over-75s do not use the internet, and they rely on the television as a source of news and information. That plays a crucial role in their ability to be an active citizen in a democracy.
My elderly mother has a TV. She has it on in the background, and she listens to the radio. She watches her soaps, the news and debates from the House of Commons Chamber.