Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Britain's poor, proud old men, about to be denied the benefit of a free TV licence, "Fear Not" : You now have Saint Andrea at your side !

Now Britain, a country with, apparently, the 5th largest economy in the world, has decided to charge old men and women over the age of 75 for their TV licences. The BBC has confirmed plans to make most over-75s pay the TV licence fee, arguing that it is the only way to avoid closing channels and making substantial cutbacks. This means that 3 million elderly households will have to start paying £154.50 a year from June 2020 for the right to watch live television and access the BBC’s iPlayer service.

In an act of compassion and largesse , the BBC has said it will continue to provide TV licences to over-75s who can provide evidence that they claim pension credit, a means-tested benefit designed to help older people. The trouble is that up to 1.3 million old 'families' consisting of either on a single old man or woman or an old couple, who are entitled to receive pension credit do not claim the benefit, according to official government figures, suggesting many poor households will be hit hard by the change.

The two main reasons why these old people don't claim benefits are that they either don't know they're eligible or they are 'too proud' to claim for help from the State, we are, after all, talking about old Britons born in, or before, 1944. As a result, charities, including 'Age UK' have said some elderly viewers will be pushed into relative poverty by the decision, with concerns over whether older viewers will be able or willing to prove they are receiving benefits and it is also likely to result in the criminal prosecution of elderly Britons who do not or are not able to pay.

Claire Enders of 'Enders Analysis' said : "It’s a massive hardship for millions of people. The really vulnerable won’t apply for this benefit – the disabled and lone females do not apply for benefits and that will be true for this as well.”

Historically, the policy of free TV licences for the over 75s was introduced in 1990 by the then Labour Chancellor, Gordon Brown, with the cost being met by the Government, which paid the BBC to provide the service. However, in 2015, at the suggestion of Conservative Chancellor, George Osborne, to Prime Minister David Cameron, a deal was struck a deal under which the subsidy would be phased out by 2020, with the the broadcaster having to shoulder the cost of free licences. It was a clever move on his part because he shifted responsibility for deciding what to do about the benefit, which might involve making an unpopular decision from the shoulders of Government ministers to the BBC.

The Corporation launched its consultation the end of 2018, with the BBC arguing that many over-75s were increasingly wealthy and it could not afford the cost of providing them with a service for free. It argued that the £745m annual cost of maintaining the status quo would have taken up a fifth of its budget, equal to the total amount it spends on all of BBC Two, BBC Three, BBC Four, the BBC News channel, CBBC and CBeebies. The BBC estimates that the new proposal will cost it £250m a year, requiring some cuts but no channel closures.

The BBC Director General, Tony Hall, who lives on an income of between £450,000 and £500,000 per annum, 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.”

Both the 2015 and 2017 Conservative Election manifestos garnered the votes of old people by pledging to maintain free TV licences for the over-75s :

'We will maintain all other pensioner benefits including free bus passes, eye tests, prescriptions and TV licences, for the duration of this parliament.'

This pledge has now been dismissed as a mistake.

The Labour Shadow Culture Secretary, Tom Watson, said he would continue to fight the decision : “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."

In addition, Conservative leadership candidates, led by Andrea Leadsom, have weighed in to pledge that over-75s continue will continue to receive free television licences if they become Prime Minister, even though this could result in further cuts to the BBC’s budget. With or without an eye on the thousands of old men and women who are Conservative Party members and have a vote in the election to choose her as Britain's next Prime Minister, Andrea said that she would honour the commitment to protect the subsidy : "I think that's unacceptable. It's a commitment in the Conservatives' manifesto and we need to find a way to reverse that."

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