TV Licences for over-75S

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:52 pm on 8th May 2019.

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Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Labour, Wolverhampton South East 3:52 pm, 8th May 2019

I am not going to give way, if that is okay, because there is a lot of pressure on time and others want to speak.

The first impact of the policy will be on the BBC itself. The second impact will be on pensioners, and it will be a dual impact—financial and social. The House of Commons Library estimates that there are around 5,600 households in my constituency with someone who is 75 or over. Looking at the options in the BBC consultation, we see that if the free BBC TV licence was restricted to pension credit recipients, 3,390 of those households would lose out, to the tune of £154 a year. If the qualifying age was raised to 80, around 2,200 households would lose out.

It has been said that we should means-test and restrict the benefit to those on pension credit. We are asked, “After all, what about the very wealthy pensioner with a huge estate?” The problem is that, as with changes to any universal benefit, it will not be not be just the pensioner with a huge estate who loses out. It is estimated that some 40% of pensioners entitled to pension credit do not receive it. If we go down the road suggested, not only the pensioner with the huge wealth will lose out, but some of the poorest pensioners in my constituency and the other constituencies that have been mentioned in the debate.

Then there is the social and cultural impact of cutting much-needed entertainment and information. What is the Government’s justification? The Minister came close to saying in opening that the change was a consequence of the financial crisis and that the Government were ultimately asking pensioners, some of them the lowest-income pensioners in the country, to pay the cost of it 10 years on. That would be unjust and unfair to pensioners in my constituency.

The free TV licence is, after all, a benefit. The Government should fund it and keep the manifesto promise they made in 2017 to maintain it. They have told us that austerity is over. What better way to start proving that than by changing their minds about the TV licence fee?

The debate is not just a party political joust. Let me act for a moment as the Under-Secretary’s political adviser and give him some friendly advice. If the Government go down this road, they will incur the wrath and lasting anger of pensioners, who have come to expect and are used to this benefit after the 20 or so years of its existence. It will do the Government no good to claim at the next election, “It wasn’t us; it was the BBC.” There is no evading the responsibility for the decision. It comes from and is owned by the Government, and the Government will pay the political price if they proceed with this policy.