Thank you to everyone who has contacted me about TV licences for people over the age of 75. Unfortunately I was not able to attend the debate on this today, but I share your concerns that millions of older people could lose their free TV licences.
The free TV licence was introduced by Labour in 2000 in recognition that the licence fee could be a source of concern for many people over the age of 75, nearly 50% of whom were in the lowest three income deciles. However, in 2015 – as part of the BBC’s Charter renewal – the Government shifted the cost of these licences to the BBC, without the funding to sustain the policy. I opposed this outsourcing of social policy from the start.
The BBC reached an agreement with the Government to take on the cost of providing free TV licences by 2020/21. The BBC is now considering whether to keep, reform or end the free TV licence for over-75s. I understand it is expected to reach a decision by summer 2019.
Many elderly people, along with Age UK, the Campaign to End Loneliness and Silver Voices, have expressed concern at any changes to the licence. A recent report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation outlined that pensioner poverty is currently rising, with one in six pensioners currently living in poverty. Ending the free TV licence could see approximately 2.4 million pensioners lose their licence and a further 50,000 pushed below the poverty line.
The TV licence is an important benefit for pensioners who suffer disproportionately from loneliness and social isolation. If TV licences are ended or means-tested, millions of older people, almost half of whom consider television their main source of company, will have to pay to keep the little company they do have.
The current Government was elected on a manifesto which promised to maintain all pensioner benefits, including TV licences. I believe it must keep this promise by taking back responsibility for the TV licence.