Older people suffer disproportionately from loneliness and social isolation. Many over-75s have a disability or mobility issues and may not be easily able to leave their homes, and Age UK has found that 400,000 elderly people regularly go a week without meeting up with people or speaking on the phone to family and friends.
The free TV licence Labour introduced in 1999 is one of the few universal benefits available to older people and is particularly important given that for millions who live on their own this is their connection to the outside world, and over a third of older people say their television is their main source of company.
Currently everyone aged 75 or over is entitled to a free licence and the Conservatives promised voters in the 2017 election that they would protect this right until at least 2022.
But now they are trying to go back on their promise. From next year, millions of people aged over-75 could lose their right to a free TV licence and if they don’t pay, end up in court despite the Conservative manifesto promising this wouldn’t happen.
There are 4,140 people aged 75 or over in Camberwell and Peckham who would lose out. And for many loneliness is worse when they don’t have their family nearby as the next generation move out of Southwark because homes are too expensive here and they can’t get a council home.
It is so dismaying that pensioner poverty, which was halved when Labour were last in government between 1997 and 2010, is now on the rise again. Under the Tories 300,000 more older people are living in poverty than in 2010. This is unacceptable in a wealthy country such as the UK.
Age UK has warned that if the Government goes ahead with these cuts, thousands of older people could be forced to go without TV or cut back on essentials such as heating or eating and a further 50,000 pensioners will be living in poverty.
It would be wrong for the Government to take free TV away from vulnerable and lonely older people.
I am working with MPs from across the House including the Labour front bench, Liberal Democrats, SNP and the DUP, to demand the Government urgently reconsider and maintain funding for free TV licences for over-75s.