Rethink urged on free TV licences

Their television set is very often the only company many older people know on a daily basis.

By Ian Lavery, MP for Wansbeck
Thursday, 16 May, 2019, 16:43
MP Ian Lavery.

It is hard to believe in this day and age, but many older people living alone often don’t see anyone for days on end so their television is their main source of company and contact with the outside world.

Yet millions are facing the prospect of losing their free TV licences, despite a government manifesto pledge to protect this form of benefit for the over-75s until at least 2022, because it has decided to devolve responsibility for the country’s free TV licence policy to the BBC.

Currently, a free TV licence is available to all households in which someone over the age of 75 is living.

However, the corporation is deliberating whether or not to scrap free licences completely, halve the rate of the concession, raise the age threshold, or introduce a means test.

The BBC is to publish its decision next month, yet we in the Labour Party are saying that the government should urgently step in and reconsider funding TV licences for those over the age of 75.

Research has shown that if the free over-75s licences are scrapped more than two million people living on their own will lose out, whilst if means testing is introduced 1.6 million would find they had to pay for their licence.

Age UK is suggesting that to compensate for losing their free licences many pensioners could cut back on other essential spending, such as on food and heating, or how many would risk the prospect of a £1,000 fine by not buying a licence?

What we are saying is that giving people over 75 a free television licence is an important tool in the battle against loneliness and social isolation, and that taking away this benefit would be like picking the pockets of so many who can ill afford to lose this money.

A decision to scrap free TV licences for pensioners over 75 is yet another sign that austerity is far from over.