The Government are very disappointed with the BBC’s decision on the future of the TV licence concession. We know that older people in particular value television as a source of companionship and entertainment, and as a way to stay connected with the world. I have met the chairman of the BBC board and the director-general of the BBC, and I have asked them to do more to help those affected by the decision.
Promises matter, and people who are elderly, lonely and housebound are not interested in squabbling in this place or in excuses—they want that promise honoured and their free TV licence. So will the Secretary of State say why she made a promise at the election, why she is letting down older people across the country and what she is going to do about it?
Of course this is not a promise that I made, because I took this job only in July, but the hon. Lady is right to say that there was a commitment. There was also an agreement with the BBC in the 2015 funding settlement; we committed to increase the licence fee in line with inflation and close the iPlayer loophole. She is right to say that the people are not interested in squabbling in this place, be it about TV licences or anything else. If older people are entitled to pension credit, they will get the help they need. The BBC will also be working to ensure that others are aware of that entitlement and the other support that is available.
We are in the midst of a loneliness epidemic, and for many older people television is their main source of company. For those who are housebound or live on their own, it is a window to the wider world. There are 5,170 households in my constituency who look set to lose their free TV licences, which they were promised by the Government at the last election. Does the Minister agree that you cannot means test for social isolation?
As the hon. Lady also knows, we are the first Government in the world to appoint a Minister to lead work on tackling loneliness, and last year we published the world’s first Government strategy on loneliness and secured £20 million of new grant funding for projects run by charities and community groups to bring people together. We know that there are people who are not claiming the pension credit who would be entitled and would fall into the categories she has mentioned. I hope that she, like me, as a local MP, will work with all local agencies to make sure that everyone who is entitled to that support gets it.