If it is true that a society’s degree of civilisation can be measured in how it treats its most helpless—the youngest and oldest citizens—I am afraid that the UK does not score enough to be at the top of any league table. All of us could enumerate the shortcomings in how we provide for our youngest citizens but, in this debate, we turn to the other end of the life cycle: our oldest citizens. Where better to do that than in this House, where nearly all of us have some experience of the main issues?
For our oldest citizens, our performance is lamentable. Masses of statistics, too numerous to mention in the short time we have, have been provided by many respected organisations from across the UK, including Age UK, Age Scotland and many more. They demonstrate what we have all seen with our own eyes and what we all know from personal experience: social care for our elderly and needy is dismal. Social care provisions are, at best, perfunctory and, at worst, non-existent or unacceptable. The blight of loneliness is increasing and deadly, making long life a misery instead of a blessing.
The latest blow is the BBC announcement that free TV licences for over-75s will be linked to pension credit—that is, means tested. Research from the House of Commons Library finds that 3,037,950 households will lose the free TV licence if that happens. I do not blame the BBC for this; noble Lords may agree with me. In a proper, decent society, the Government take responsibility for social welfare; it is monstrous for a Government to ditch their responsibilities like this and put them on a broadcasting service, private or public. Given that our old age pensions are among the lowest in Europe, using any measure, how can means testing TV licences or any such benefit for our elderly be justified?
I leave noble Lords with two questions that arose in the discussions on the Urgent Question asked on Tuesday in another place by the shadow Culture Secretary, the right honourable Tom Watson. First, how can you means test loneliness? Secondly, how can you means test social isolation? The answer to both is that you cannot—indeed, you ought not even try to do so.