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BBC — [Phil Wilson in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:21 pm on 15th July 2019.

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Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities) 5:21 pm, 15th July 2019

Thank you for your chairmanship, Mr Wilson. I, too, thank my hon. Friend Helen Jones for opening the debate.

In the UK, 3.6 million older people live alone, of whom more than 2 million are aged 75 and over. A huge proportion of those individuals rely on their television to alleviate the loneliness that often comes when people live by themselves. Taking away free TV licences for the over-75s who are not in receipt of pension credit will detrimentally affect people who have worked hard all their lives. It will affect working-class areas, such as my constituency, the most—more than 3,000 households in Swansea East could lose their free TV licence.

The change will affect people such as my dad, who is in the excellent care of Anglesey ward in Morriston Hospital, no doubt watching television with his fellow patients. My dad worked hard all his life as a bus driver. He is now 89 years of age, with a small pension as well as a state pension to live on. He lives alone, since my mum passed away, and he relies a lot on his television to ease the common loneliness that can occur when older people live by themselves. He will now have to stretch his pension to pay for his TV licence—something that he had not planned for.

My dad is just one story, but one that will be common across the UK among those affected by the change. When the news broke that the free TV licence was ending, my neighbours Merv and Kitty, an elderly couple, immediately called my husband to ask him if it was true that they would now have to pay for a licence. Merv’s reaction was, “Stuff ’em. We won’t bother putting the TV on,” while Kitty’s was, “I can’t get out of the house and I really need my TV.” Immediately, therefore, a domestic started about whether they kept the TV or paid the licence.

Merv and Kitty worked all their lives saving for their pension—a small pension, but one that makes them ineligible for a free licence. Neither my Dad, nor Kitty and Merv are well off, and they are certainly not rich, but they are being treated as such. They now face an extra annual cost that is without doubt unfair and unnecessary. At their age, and with the contribution that they have made to this country over many years, a free TV licence is the least that we can give them.

Linking the over-75s’ free TV licence to pension credit is cruel. Pension credit is widely underclaimed by older people. In Swansea East alone, each year more than £6.5 million in pension credit does not reach the people who are entitled to it. So what about those who will not get their free TV licence because they are unaware that they are entitled to pension credit or, for whatever reason, have been unable to access it?

The decision to end free TV licences for the most vulnerable is shocking. For the sake of people out there such as my dad, Kitty and Merv, and all our elderly population, the least we can do to show them respect is to give them a free TV licence.