If I were a pensioner, asks journalist Toby Young
“I’d be a bit miffed by the BBC’s decision to end the policy of giving free TV licences to the over-75s. At present, the cost is met by the government, but it was due to be picked up by the BBC from 1 June 2020. At least, that’s what I thought, and I had good reason.
“According to a report on the BBC News website dated 6 July 2015, the Beeb would ‘cover the cost of providing free television licences for over-75s’ and ‘in return…the licence fee will rise with inflation’. The story referred to this as a ‘deal’ that the BBC had made with the government in the run-up to the renewal of the BBC charter in 2017”.
And in the Guardian 6 July 2015 “The BBC will shoulder the cost of providing free television licences for people aged over 75 in a surprise deal that will cost it £750m by 2020, almost a fifth of the corporation’s current annual income. In return for the BBC’s agreement to finance part of the welfare spending cuts, the government promised to allow the £145.50 licence fee to increase in line with inflation and close a loophole caused by the increased use of on-demand television”.
Describing the settlement, agreed over a week’s secret negotiations that came before the budget due on Wednesday,
said that “as a publicly funded body, it is right that [the BBC], like other parts of the public sector, should make savings”.
The new settlement was unexpectedly announced in the House of Commons by the then Culture Secretary
who occasionally had other interests, in response to an urgent questions put down by Labour a day after Osborne had accused the BBC of being “imperial in its ambitions”.
Under the terms of the agreement the government promised to: Link the annual £145.50 annual licence fee to inflation if the “purposes and scope of the BBC” remain the same; Introduce legislation within the next year to modernise the licence fee and close a loophole covering catch-up TV. End the BBC’s commitment to fund superfast broadband around the country by 2020 which would have cost it £80m in 2018.
Tony Hall, the overpaid director general of the BBC, said the new funding formula had been hammered out as a result of intense negotiations over the past week and meant the BBC’s income would remain flat and perhaps even rise over the next five years. “We have secured the right deal for the BBC in difficult economic circumstances for the country” he said.
BBC staff were warned by senior management to be careful about how they talked about the funding settlement on social media. In an email, they were reminded of guidelines which tell staff: “Don’t sound off about things in an openly partisan way. Don’t be seduced by the informality of social media into bringing the BBC into disrepute”. During the 2010 negotiations over the licence fee, the BBC trustees threatened to resign en masse if the BBC was forced to take on the government’s social policy commitments.
On Monday, BBC Trust chair Rona Fairhead criticised the way the deal had been negotiated and warned that it would “inevitably” have an impact on BBC services, but said “We accept this decision is a legitimate one for the government to take, although we cannot endorse the process by which it has been reached. The executive are clear that the necessary savings will not be achieved through productive efficiency alone and will inevitably have some impact on the nature of the BBC’s services”.
Theresa May promised voters in 2017 that she would maintain funding for pensioner benefits, including free bus passes, prescriptions and TV licenses, until the end of the current Parliament in 2022. But the BBC has confirmed the £154.50-a-year benefit would be scrapped for almost three million over-75s, with only those receiving Pension Credits allowed to continue claiming it.
The broadcaster had held a consultation on how to deal with the £745m annual cost for the scheme after plans drawn up the former Chancellor George Osborne left the broadcasting corporation with the responsibility for funding the programme. But BBC chairman David Clementi said the cut, which will come into force from June 2020, was the “fairest judgement” which would continue to help the poorest pensioners.
He said “This has not been an easy decision. Whilst we know that pensioner incomes have improved since 2000, we also know that for some the TV licence is a lot of money. I believe we have reached the fairest judgement after weighing up all the different arguments. It would not be right simply to abolish all free licences. Equally it would not be right to maintain it in perpetuity given the very profound impact that would have on many BBC services”.
But Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson
responded with fury, saying the decision had left Theresa May’s manifesto pledge “in tatters”. He said “It is an outrage that this Government is overseeing the scrapping of free TV licenses for three million older people, leaving a Tory manifesto promise in tatters. In the same week that Boris Johnson has championed tax cuts for the rich, the Conservative Government has delivered yet another ruthless welfare cut to some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
He added “I challenge all the Tory leadership candidates to honour the commitment they made in 2017. You cannot means test for social isolation. You cannot means test for loneliness. Millions of elderly and isolated people will lose because of this announcement – Labour will fight it with everything we’ve got. The UK government must U-turn on their broken manifesto promise and fully fund the TV license for our older people. The Tory government need to explain why they are breaking their promises on the TV license, and move now to ensure that our elderly population do not suffer from this ill-thought out proposal.”
Charities also hit out at the plans, claiming the cut would leave hundreds of thousands of pensioners facing isolation and loneliness. Age UK charity director, Caroline Abrahams, said “Make no mistake, if this scheme goes ahead we are going to see sick and disabled people in their eighties and nineties who are completely dependent on their cherished TV for companionship and news, forced to give it up. Means-testing may sound fair but in reality it means at least 650,000 of our poorest pensioners facing a big new annual bill they simply can’t afford, because though eligible for Pension Credit they don’t actually get it”.
George McNamara, director of policy at Independent Age, said “This is a massive kick in the teeth for millions of older people up and down the country. It is a great shame that the BBC has ignored the overwhelming case for keeping free TV licenses for all over-75s”.
Only days ago they were patting old people on the head and calling them heroes.
WWII PoW, 99, blasts BBC
told GMB the BBC was ‘robbing the piggy banks’ of veterans. Not just a “veteran” but a true hero,
unlike some sports players who are tagged “hero” for scoring a goal, or winning a tennis match!