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The BBC has betrayed over-75 year olds by scrapping free TV licences

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The BBC caused a furore earlier this month when they announced that, effective June 2020, they would be scrapping their 20-year old scheme offering over-75 year olds free TV licences.

Image credit: free images

As per their new scheme, only people over 75 who receive a Pension Credit (i.e. those in low income households) will be eligible for the free service, resulting in the loss of a free service for over three million British households.This decision seems to have been made with financial considerations at heart, hitting their most loyal viewers the hardest as ‘elderly are by far the biggest consumers of the BBC's output.’

The previous scheme was funded by the government, who paid the broadcasting corporation £745 million a year. However, under new legislation, the BBC is responsible for any future schemes and funding, forcing them to reduce their costs in the face of this extreme budget cut. It was calculated that by providing it to only selected over 75 year olds, the BBC could cut costs to £250 million. This change has been promoted under the guise of ‘fairness’ to help the ‘poorest pensioners,’ and BBC officials have insisted it is integral in order to offer all licence payers with the ‘best programmes and services.’

But official government statistics suggest that six out of ten people entitled to Pension Credits actually received the benefit and only 64% of the amount of Credit people were entitled to was claimed. Charities have highlighted how this means that poor elderly people who are eligible for Pension Credits, but do not apply for this benefit, will be ‘pushed into relative poverty’  by the annual fee of £154.50.

Moreover, there are fears of older individuals facing criminal prosecution as they are unable to pay the fee. Piers Morgan pointed out the irony of the decision as pensioners refusing to pay the licence fee would be able to enjoy free television in prison, highlighting the diminished rights and benefits available to Britain’s elderly.

Television is often the ‘main form of companionship’ for the elderly, and this deprivation will be cause of ‘enormous anxiety and distress’ for ‘sick and disabled’ octogenarians and nonagenarians. As pointed out by Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, this new scheme seems a poor repayment for the service and immense contribution pensioners have made to society. Critics have also pointed to the highly inflated salaries offered at the BBC; for example, former professional footballer Gary Lineker reportedly receives over £1.7 million a year for his stint as a sports presenter on Match of the Day. This, they argue, would be a better place to start in order to cut costs. 

From a financial perspective, this does not appear to be feasible. BBC Director of Policy, Clare Summer, pointed out that even by reducing and capping all salaries at £150,000, the BBC would only be able to cut costs by less than £20 million, nowhere near as much as they would be saving by scrapping free licences. Summer also pointed out that 94% of the BBC’s budget goes towards its programmes and content, inferring that a loss to their budget would result in the closure of multiple channels and radio stations which are beloved by pensioners and are described as their ‘window on the world’.

This budget cut could also lead to a loss of British culture as, in an era dominated by American media conglomerates, the BBC allows us to ‘tell uniquely British stories’ and reflect authentic British culture and daily lives. By cutting costs, the BBC can begin to address the intense competition it faces from increasingly popular and highly Americanised streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. Many have also pointed out the injustices of having millennials who are unable to make ends meet financially be forced to pay for a service that they scarcely use in order to fund the licences of ‘retired judges, lawyers, bankers and doctors’ who can afford the fee. 

It’s clear that the BBC has been caught between a rock and a hard place; scrambling to compensate for a loss equivalent to one fifth of its income while continuing to fund their programmes and channels. There seems to be no easy solution and many have criticised the Conservative government for withdrawing their funding and placing the BBC in this situation in the first place. Regardless, this new scheme will continue to face heavy criticism and will be challenged by online petitions such as the ones launched by Age UK directly addressing Parliament. This will hopefully be a starting point to undo the great injustice committed against Britain's elderly, who should be taken care of rather than deprived of an integral part of their daily lives.  

Lead image credit: free images 




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