A television is often the only company a perhaps lonely and isolated elderly person has, so taking away free TV licences is outrageous, writes Ian Murray MP.
A few months ago, I visited the Age Scotland HQ in Causewayside in the Edinburgh South constituency.
It does incredible work helping and advising our older generation on everything from social security entitlement to befriending schemes. One of its key projects is the alleviation of loneliness and isolation.
Age Scotland figures show that more than a quarter of over-75s feel lonely or isolated. In modern times extended families tend to live much further apart and local communities are much less homogeneous.
Former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown was the architect of policies designed to tackle pensioner poverty and loneliness. Free bus travel, Pension Credit and the over-75s free TV licence were all part of an economic package that helped lift millions of pensioners out of poverty, but they were also designed with a social aspect.
None more so than the free over-75s TV licence. Our televisions are something most of us take for granted, but they are often the only company an elderly person has.
I can think of few things more heart-breaking than older people feeling lonely and isolated. That is why the Conservatives’ plan to break its election promise to keep over-75s TV licences is so outrageous.
Silence and loneliness
They blackmailed the BBC to take the licence cost (equivalent to nearly 25 per cent of the BBC budget) in return for renewal of the Royal Charter that ensures the BBC exists.
When the government broke the promise, many local over-75s contacted me in despair to tell me that their TV was their lifeline. The only social interaction they had. The only company in their house.
One woman said that after she lost her husband and pet dog she was left with silence and loneliness but for her TV. Edinburgh South has the fifth highest number of pensioners that will be affected so I started a campaign alongside Gordon Brown to have this reversed.
It was replicated across the country and I’m delighted that the Labour manifesto will commit to reintroducing the free TV licence. It was a disgrace that there were proposals to take it away in the first place.
I know our politics has been paralysed by the constitutional arguments around Brexit and Scottish independence for too long, but these are the real grassroots issues that matter to people’s lives. But rather than debating and dealing with them we have Nicola Sturgeon and SNP politicians spending their time making angry and divisive speeches at independence rallies.
Scexit not the answer
The First Minister rightly said that the UK leaving the EU will be harmful to the country, yet said the solution is Scotland leaving the UK. What utter nonsense. The idea that the solution to the Brexit disaster is to attempt to disentangle the much deeper, more integral UK union just doesn’t make sense at all. It’s an argument that must be won and I intend to keep making it throughout this election campaign.
Just five weeks today we will go back to the polling stations for the third time in fewer than five years in a UK General Election. It’s an election that will be dominated by Brexit and Scexit (sorry, Kezia, Scexit is an accurate description of the SNP’s proposal!).
I will be making the case for the public to have their opportunity to stop Brexit in a final say on Boris Johnson’s deal, saying no to an unwanted, unnecessary and divisive Scottish independence referendum, and standing on my local record of being on the side of the real issues that my constituents bring to me.
Maybe this won’t be the last election that the over-75s get to watch the results coming in on their TVs for free. Maybe it will also be the last election that is dominated by divisive and angry constitutional politics. We can do better for the people we seek to represent and we should.
Ian Murray is the Labour candidate for Edinburgh South MP