Members across the House will know all too well that loneliness and social isolation define the lives of many older people. I see that when I am out knocking on doors in my constituency, and I know that nine years of austerity has made it even worse. Older people are losing the social care support that they need to live active lives, and they also have limited access to leisure and social activities.
Last month, when I visited Age UK in Wandsworth, I spoke to staff and volunteers. They do fantastic work supporting older people in Battersea, and they are all too aware of the growing problem of loneliness and isolation among older people. Research shows that the main source of company for 40% of older people is the television. It was nothing short of cruel for the Government to open the door to ending free TV licences for over-75s and causing yet more loneliness.
The effects of this move would be considerable. It could hit more than 3,500 households in my constituency, and nearly 4 million households across the country. According to research conducted by Age UK, more than 2 million over-75s will be forced either to go without TV or to cut back on other essentials such as heating or even meals if the concession is scrapped, and 50,000 people will be pushed below the poverty line. As with so many Government cuts, disabled people will be severely hit. There are 1.6 million disabled people over 75, many of whom have mobility issues, struggle to leave their homes, and rely on this concession. It was a Labour Government who introduced free TV licences in 2000 as part of the wider support package for our elderly, and for this Government to simply cut them after nine years of austerity is wrong and will only make the situation worse.
It is not just that: as my hon. Friend Tom Watson said, the Government are breaking their manifesto promise to retain TV licence support for the duration of this Parliament. They made that promise in their manifesto, but are breaking it so quickly. As my hon. Friend said in his opening speech, we have got into this mess because the Government are outsourcing their responsibilities for the licence fee concession to the BBC. The BBC is a public broadcaster; it is not there to administer social concessions—it is not its job to do that.
At the same time the Government are squeezing the BBC’s funding, which in effect means that the Government are trying to devolve responsibility and blame for their cuts; the cuts are political choices. The Prime Minister has said that austerity is over, but we on the Opposition Benches know it is not. However, the Government can prevent yet another devastating effect of their austerity programme: they can honour their 2017 manifesto commitment and fund the TV licence concession for over-75s. For the sake of my Battersea constituents and all those who rely on the concession, I urge the Minister not to go ahead with this cut.