As early at 1997, when I was first elected, I supported a Ten Minute Rule Bill which proposed providing free television licences to those over 75. I am very disappointed to hear that the BBC have decided to no longer fund TV licences for over 75s from 2020. The BBC is a fundamental social part of this country; it is important for people of all ages, but particularly for older people, who value television as a way to stay connected with the world. It is vital that the BBC understands the effect that their decision will have and take its broader social responsibilities seriously.
In the Digital Economy Act 2017, the BBC was given the responsibility of funding over 75 TV licences in exchange for the ability to increase licence fees in line with inflation. The government agreed a phased transition to help the BBC with its financial planning to ensure that the licences would be covered. At the time the BBC director-general noted that, “The Government’s decision here to put the cost of the over-75s on us has been more than matched by the deal coming back for the BBC” however, following a consultation the BBC has decided to go back on this deal.
The Government recognised the importance of the licence fee when we agreed a funding settlement and even noted free licences in our 2017 party manifesto. Sadly, the delivery of any manifesto requires the co-operation and assistance of others, in this case the BBC. The government made clear that there was an expectation free licences would continue before the decision was taken; and have since made clear the great disappointment following the BBCs decision. What the government must do now is engage further with the BBC to discuss what further action it can and should take.
It is important to understand that those who are entitled to pension credit will still have a free TV licence. Age UK estimated that 37% of single pensioners and 50% of couples entitled to pension credit are not claiming. This means each year £3 billion goes unclaimed, a saving that the government does not wish to make. It is important that more people to come forward and claim the pension credits they deserve. The government will work with the BBC to support an increase in pension credit claims to ensure those most in need get the help they deserve.
I am against at the decision that the BBC has reached, but I accept that it is the BBC’s decision, and not the governments. I will do what I can to support talks with the BBC and hope that they will review their decision.