It is an honour to follow my hon. Friend Mrs Hodgson—and hello to her mum.
Older people across my constituency will be watching this important debate closely. Recent election results have shown that public trust in politicians has fallen to historic lows. I am surprised that the Government have decided to further erode the public trust by breaking their promise on free TV licences for the over-75s. As we have already heard, there was a clear commitment in the 2017 Conservative party manifesto that free licences would be protected until the end of this Parliament, which is currently scheduled for 2022. That promise to our pensioners is now in tatters. The Government have chosen to outsource responsibility and the financial burden of free licences to the BBC—“Let’s blame the BBC.” The BBC cannot cope with the costs and has been going through a consultation process on the future of free licences, and they now look set to be curtailed or completely scrapped by 2020.
The options in the BBC consultation will have a negative impact on households throughout my constituency. Locally, some 2,000 households will lose their free licences if the qualifying age is raised to 80; some 3,000 will lose their free licences if a mean test based on pension credit is introduced; and nearly 5,000 will lose out if free licences are ended entirely. My constituents will be paying the price of the Government’s cynical decision to make a promise that they had no intention of keeping.
The previous Labour Government had many great achievements, including the introduction of free TV licences for the over-75s in 2000. I am proud of that achievement, which is why I join my colleagues on the Opposition Benches to call for more action from the Government. There are currently more than 440,000 over-75s in Scotland, with a projected 49% increase in this age group by 2041. [Interruption.] I am glad the Minister has come over to our Benches after what I just said. Age Scotland has found that four in 10 Scots aged over 50 currently feel financially squeezed. Six in 10 pensioners who live alone are struggling to pay their fuel bills. The Government’s failure to protect free licences will undoubtedly push more older people into financial hardship and fuel the growth of pensioner poverty throughout Scotland.