I stood on a manifesto which made clear that the BBC should do the right thing and fund TV licences for over 75s and their decision to stop funding free TV licences for most over 75s is very disappointing. Only those who receive the Pension Credit benefit will be exempt.
I completely understand why news of the BBC’s top earners is difficult to swallow, especially considering the Corporation’s announcement that it will no longer fund free TV licences for all over 75s. I believe it is entirely correct the BBC are scrutinised and particularly so following the latest news regarding their top earners and I can confirm I will continue raising my concerns around this with my colleagues in DCMS.
The BBC chose to delay implementing its decision to stop funding free TV licences for over 75s from June to August. It is deeply disappointing they have announced they will be going ahead with the decision from August. In light of the restrictions placed on society because of coronavirus, this announcement is very poorly timed and will have a big impact on many of our most vulnerable members of society.
Regarding the issue of TV licenses, I must declare a personal interest too, as I previously worked at the BBC and have several friends who continue to be part of this national institution. I feel strongly they can change, adapt and modernise to a changing audience and we will all benefit from an agile BBC.
For many of us, television is an important connection with the outside world that informs and entertains. It also has a role in keeping people company, and this can be especially true for older people. I know from my own relatives and constituents just how important television is in their lives. I also know that the TV is key to many people’s lives who are isolated and lonely – as I was the previous Loneliness Minister. This is why I was personally disappointed that the BBC announced the most narrowly defined option for reform of the current over 75s concession.
It is important to note that this was purely the BBC’s decision and not the Government’s, after Parliament legislated to give the BBC the full responsibility from 2020. This was part of a deal the Government reached with the BBC over four years ago, in which the BBC described as a good deal that provided financial stability to the organisation through inflation linked increases of the licence fee and the closure of the so-called iPlayer loophole.
As you will be aware, even under the BBC’s current plans, the poorest pensioners will continue to be helped, as the BBC stated that those eligible for Pension Credit will still receive a free TV licence. I urge those who may be eligible to find out about Pension credit as the take up is often low. The Citizens Advice or local job centres can assist on this. At this point therefore I do not believe this is the end of the conversation about what the BBC can do to assist older people across all communities.
I will continue to correspond with my colleagues in the Department f