Older Persons: Provision of Public Services - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:38 pm on 13th June 2019.

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Photo of Lord O'Neill of Clackmannan Lord O'Neill of Clackmannan Labour 4:38 pm, 13th June 2019

My Lords, in the last 12 months, I have spent rather more time watching television than has been my usual habit. I very quickly began to lose the will to live with the extensive coverage of Brexit, so I took refuge in some of the Freeview channels. They will not necessarily win a Palme d’Or for their westerns or adventure films, which relive the days of my youth in the 1950s. The fact is that throughout all these programmes of the non-BBC kind on Freeview there were interminable adverts for funeral plans, so these stations are obviously watched by the elderly. To take up the point that my noble friend Lord Maxton was developing, perhaps we ought to look at whether it could be arranged so that some of the Freeview channels make their contribution to the funding of the licence.

Looking at the intergenerational fairness report, there is an assumption that if the benefits given to the elderly are preserved and the benefits to the young are undermined by austerity-driven meanness, then the answer is to extend that meanness to the elderly. This is a fundamental flaw in the argument advanced by a group of people who I would not normally have credited with this degree of stupidity.

I want to finish on this point, as I know that we do not have a lot of time. Several benefits such as the winter fuel payment, the free bus pass and the television licence are seen as benefits which the elderly get at the expense of the rest of us. I was an MP from 1979, throughout the Thatcher years. One thing which struck me at that time was the concept of genteel poverty, when there were people who were frightened to claim the benefits. Nowadays there are people who take advantage of the bus pass and winter fuel allowance, as it helps to pay for the Christmas presents for their family. These people do not always have the money to subsidise their heating costs but this gives them that bit of independence and enhances their integrity. Very often, it compensates for their loneliness.

This is a mean-minded, dispiriting measure for which the Government, either by design or intent, have correctly ended up getting the blame. They have within their capability the means of finding solutions. The solutions should come early because, if they do not come soon, the general election which will follow will see them being punished. If there is one thing that the elderly will not do, it is to forget who is responsible for their increasing misery.