TV Licences for Over-75s

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – in the House of Commons on 23rd May 2019.

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Photo of Stephen Hepburn Stephen Hepburn Labour, Jarrow

What steps he is taking to support the maintenance of free television licences for the over-75s.

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

The Government have guaranteed the over-75s licence concession until 2020. After that, the future of that concession is the BBC’s decision, but we have been clear that we would want and expect it to continue. We expect the BBC’s decision next month.

Photo of Stephen Hepburn Stephen Hepburn Labour, Jarrow

It was a Labour Government who introduced free TV licences for pensioners, in the vital battle against isolation, loneliness and severe mobility problems. Next year, up to 6,000 pensioners could lose their licence in Jarrow. Half of them class the TV as their main source of company. What is the Minister going to do about that?

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

The hon. Gentleman is right that television is important for many older and more isolated people, but the key word in his question was “could”. We do not yet know what decision the BBC will make, and it is sensible to wait until we have the proposal before commenting upon it.

Photo of Jim Cunningham Jim Cunningham Labour, Coventry South

What deal have the Government come to to compensate the BBC if it decides to continue with free television licences, bearing in mind that this was in the Conservative party’s manifesto for the general election?

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

We have made it quite clear that we will continue to fund the concession until 2020. It is worth noting that, over the last two years, the funding has been managed in a transitional way. The Department for Work and Pensions transferred £468 million in 2018-19 to the BBC and £247 million this year. It is important to make that point, because it means that the remainder of the cost is now being borne by the BBC. We have been clear that when the BBC takes on this responsibility, it is important for the concession to continue.

Photo of Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

As this is the last Digital, Culture, Media and Sport questions before the women’s World cup in France, I want to take this opportunity to wish Scotland, led by Shelley Kerr—another Livingston lass—all the very best, as well as England, who we look forward to taking on on 9 June.

Research by Age UK shows that more than 2 million over-75s will have to go without TV or cut back on heating and food if free TV licences are scrapped. The scale of loneliness in the UK is becoming apparent, and the UN rapporteur on extreme poverty, Philip Alston, concluded that unless austerity is ended, the UK’s poorest people face lives that are

“solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”.

Why do this Government want to heap more misery on to the elderly and poor and think it is worth removing what, for many, is the only source of information, company and link to the outside world?

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

First, let me mostly endorse what the hon. Lady said about the women’s World cup and wish a huge amount of luck to England and almost as much luck to Scotland.

I disagree with the hon. Lady’s description of the position. We do not accept the characterisation in the report that she refers to. In relation to TV licences, as she has heard me say this morning, I think it is important to wait until we see the BBC’s proposals, and we will then be in a position to comment. That principle applies more broadly—it is always sensible to wait and see what is proposed before you decide you do not like it.