Tom Watson – 2019 Speech on Free TV Licences for Over-75s

Below is the text of the speech made by Tom Watson, the Labour MP for West Bromwich East, on 11 June 2019.

We found out yesterday just how little a Tory manifesto promise is worth. I have read these words in the Chamber before, but I will read them again:

“We will maintain all…pensioner benefits, including free bus passes, eye tests, prescriptions and TV licences, for the duration of this parliament.”

No ifs, no buts, no wavering—a promise made in 2017 to voters by the Conservative party.

Today, 3.7 million over-75s find that promise in tatters. They have been betrayed, and it is shameful. The Government have the breathtaking gall to blame the BBC for this mess, but passing the buck will not work. The BBC is not the Department for Work and Pensions. ​Public broadcasters should never be responsible for social policy. My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) warned in 2015 that this was a “smash and grab raid” by the Government on the BBC. He was right, and now older people are paying the price. There are 1.8 million over-75s who live completely alone, and they will lose their TV licence because of the announcement. How can the Secretary of State justify that? We cannot means-test for loneliness or social inclusion.

What about the very poorest in our nation who are eligible for pension credit but do not claim it? How will the Secretary of State protect them? Two of the Tory leadership candidates—the former Leader of the House and the Home Secretary—have committed to overturning the decision. Perhaps they know how it will look to the rest of the world when we start jailing pensioners who cannot or will not pay the licence fee.

I would like to share some figures with the House: 4,240 older people in Uxbridge will lose their TV licence; 5,970 people in West Suffolk will be affected; and 6,730—the number in South West Surrey. The right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) wants to give a tax cut to the very richest, but he will not lift a finger to defend pensioners. The Health Secretary says he cares about social care, but he will not defend pensioners either. The Foreign Secretary tells us that he cares about the chronically lonely, but he will not defend even the loneliest pensioners. Is it therefore any surprise that the country’s pensioners are asking whether the leadership candidates will honour their word and keep their promise, or break it?

This is a test not just of leadership, but of honour, integrity and truthfulness. Does the Secretary of State agree that someone who cannot keep a promise is not fit to be Prime Minister? It is as simple as that.