A BBC-commissioned report last year warned hundreds of thousands of the UK’s poorest pensioners would be impacted by means testing free TV licences for over-75s.
Nevertheless, Tony Hall, Director of the BBC, maintained this week that the corporation’s decision to adopt the new scheme next year was “fair”.
Lesley Laird MP called on the government to “grow a conscience” and intervene.
She said: “The fact that the BBC forged ahead and decided to scrap free TV licences knowing full well its impact on our most vulnerable pensioners is utterly damning. However, the original decision by the Tory government to outsource this cost to the BBC was never going to have a happy ending and it was completely unrealistic for the BBC to achieve this cost without cutting either programmes or this benefit.
“This report commissioned by the BBC last year, shows that only 11 per cent of the poorest tenth of households currently receiving the free licence would actually keep it under means-testing. The BBC understood that yet – incredibly – cut the benefit anyway. Under what circumstances did they ever think such a scheme could be considered fair?”
Lesley added: “Free TV licences were part of a series of welfare reforms introduced by Gordon Brown which succeeded in lifting one million pensioners out of poverty. The current government promised in its manifesto in 2017 it would maintain this benefit, but they have effectively passed the buck to the BBC and have made it clear they are not prepared to do anything about it.
“Taking the free TV licence away from pensioners looks downright petty, but it’s much, much worse than that. As a result of this decision, thousands of pensioners will have to forego heating or food just to be able to watch a TV for some company. It’s time this government kept its commitment, grew a conscience and acted to reverse this decision – right now.”
Age UK’s petition Save Free TV for Older People has now been signed by over 460,000 people and a string of celebrities have backed the campaign.
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK said: “It is now crystal clear that under the BBC’s plan to means-test the free TV licence for over-75s many hundreds of thousands of the poorest older people will lose out – even the BBC’s own report says so.
“I think the public agrees this situation is deeply unfair. It is totally unnecessary too: the Government should never have given the responsibility for the free TV licence to the BBC without the money to fund it and the mess we have now is the inevitable result.
“The BBC cannot save the free TV licence for over-75s, it would cost them a fifth of their total budget, but our next Prime Minister certainly can: at less than 0.1% of public spending the cost to the public purse is small change – but saving this entitlement would mean so much to so many older people. We call on all the candidates for the leadership of the Conservative Party to pledge their support.”
To sign the petition visit www.ageuk.org.uk/our-impact/campaigning/save-free-tv-for-older-people/
Pic courtesy: Tristan Ferne/flickr