I am always shocked and saddened to read the statistics on loneliness. Given that over half of people aged over 75 live alone, and that there are an estimated 2 million older people experiencing loneliness each year, we need to be taking practical steps to ensure that no-one is left without company. That means ensuring that pensioners can access public transport through the free bus pass. And it means guaranteeing free TV licences for over-75s.
Television and radio can be vital lifelines for older people who are living on their own. A recent survey showed that television is the main source of company for 4 in 10 older people; and millions of pensioners can go for weeks at a time without contact with the outside world. We simply cannot risk exacerbating this loneliness epidemic by withdrawing free TV licences.
At the last election the Conservatives promised that they would protect vital pensioner benefits, but less than 2 years later free TV licences are at risk because of the Government’s proposed changes to licensing. The Government have passed the buck on TV licencing for older people to the BBC who have announced that that free TV licences will be restricted to Pension Credit recipients. This change will mean that millions of pensioners – including a good number on low incomes – would lose their licence as a relatively small number of older people are in receipt of Pension Credit.
I do not think that we can risk messing about with free TV licences for over-75s. Ever since they were first introduced by the last Labour Government free TV licences have been a lifesaver for so many older people. Age UK have said that around 2 million low income pensioners would have to choose between a TV licence or cutting back on essentials such as heating or food if these changes go through. Across the country, scrapping free licences could push 50,000 older people below the poverty line; whereas here in Barnsley 14,000 local people could lose their licence, potentially adding £2 million onto local household bills.
I’m committed to fighting in Parliament to protect free TV licences for over-75s and recognise that they are a vital weapon in our fight against the scourge of loneliness. If you’ve worked hard all your life and always paid into the system, then it is only right that this service should be appreciated and properly supported in retirement.
I appreciate that the BBC is criticised by both sides of the political debate. Whilst some of that criticism is not without merit, I do think that the BBC does crucial job as our national broadcaster and is respected around the world. The BBC has managed to survive and thrive in recent years, producing some truly innovative television and radio, whilst retaining free TV licences for older people. There’s no reason why this cannot continue in the future.
If you are 75 or older and think that we need to save free TV licences do get in touch to let me know. The more local support we can demonstrate for this campaign, the stronger my arm is in Parliament in fighting to retain free TV licences. You can do so by calling my Barnsley office on 01226 787 893.
This article was originally published in the Barnsley Chronicle on 14 June 2019.