“We will maintain all other pensioner benefits, including free TV licences, for the duration of this Parliament.”
You’d think that statement, made in the Conservative Party’s 2017 election manifesto, was a pretty clear promise, writes Peterborough MP Lisa Forbes.
As it stands, all over-75s are entitled to a free TV licence.
Anyone would have thought, reading the Tories’ manifesto, that this would continue.
But local pensioners are set for a very unpleasant surprise. Because just two years into this five-year Parliament, all those not claiming Pension Credit will receive a letter demanding they pay for next year’s TV licence.
That has come about for a simple reason.
Despite its promises, the Government has devolved the responsibility – and cost – of the licences to the BBC.
To fund the licences themselves would cost the equivalent of BBC 2, BBC 3, BBC 4, the BBC News Channel, CBBC and CBeebies combined – which would clearly have had a massive impact on the service they provide.
With no money coming from government to cover the gap, the BBC have had to means-test the previously free licence, limiting it to those on Pension Credit.
This isn’t a cut that only affects a handful of people.
Across the country, over three million households will be affected.
Over a million pensioners are eligible for the Pension Credit, but don’t apply for it, meaning they will lose out.
The House of Commons Library has estimated that here in the constituency of Peterborough, 4,580 households with over-75 year-olds will lose their free TV licence as a consequence of this broken promise.
Further, Ministers admitted to me in answer to written questions that the total cost burden to pensioners in Peterborough could be over a million pounds a year.
But it’s not just about imposing a financial burden.
Loneliness is a growing epidemic, one that we will need many different approaches to tackle.
Many more could be worse-affected if it wasn’t for something lots of us take for granted: our TVs.
It might be a bit of entertainment after a day at work for most of us, but for many older people it’s a way of staying in touch with the world.
The Campaign to End Loneliness recently found that 40 per cent of older people say that TV is their main source of company.
Yet it has been estimated that over 1.6 million pensioners living alone will now lose their free licence.
This isn’t about a lack of money for the government either.
The new PM has made clear that his top priority is to hand out billions of pounds to the super-rich and the biggest businesses in new tax breaks.
So it’s a simple matter of priorities.
Just before I was elected, the House of Commons unanimously agreed a motion proposed by the Opposition demanding any changes to the existing TV licence concession be subject to parliamentary consent.
Now I’m in the Commons myself, one of my own priorities will be demanding that motion is enforced, and this government keeps the promises it made to Peterborough’s pensioners.