TV licences for over 75s
Minister for Older People Christina McKelvie has written to the Culture Secretary, strongly urging the UK Government to take responsibility and fund free TV licences for the over 75s. The full text of the letter is below.
I write to you to express my deep concern regarding the announcement by the BBC on the over 75s licence fee concession.
As you will be aware, I previously wrote to Jeremy Wright on this issue and made it clear that responsibility for the concession had been wrongly transferred to the BBC. The UK Government’s decision to shift what should be a wellbeing policy onto the BBC and sidestep away from its responsibility to support older people, risks increasing the levels of social isolation and loneliness for those same people who are already isolated because of the global pandemic.
Television enables all of us to keep informed and entertained, but for many older people it is their main source of news about what’s going on at home and across the world.
As we have seen from the pandemic, television is a vital tool for reaching people to inform them on how they stay safe and protect their own life as well as others. We know that people over the age of 75 are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 and as such, the continuation of that information source is crucial to our efforts in tackling this health crisis.
For many, television is a lifeline and the BBC, as a public service broadcaster, must remain available to all our over 75s through the continuation of the free licence.
The change will force older people to make difficult choices about what they can afford.
Going forward into the Autumn and Winter, older people will become increasingly reliant on television as poorer weather conditions begin to impact, and of course there may yet be further lockdown restrictions due to coronavirus which will force people to once again stay inside. It is just unacceptable to force this choice upon people especially in the current circumstances.
In April this year the UK Government launched its plan to tackle loneliness, recognising the impacts of social distancing and isolation as a direct result of the pandemic.
As Culture Secretary you stated that;
“We are launching this plan now to help ensure no one needs to feel lonely in the weeks ahead”; and “The plan will aim to ensure that, for people of all ages and backgrounds, staying at home does not need to lead to loneliness.”
So I ask why, when you recognise that social isolation and loneliness is a real and growing problem across the UK, will you force the most at risk older people to make a choice when it comes to paying their bills?
This decision has a direct and negative impact on the strategic ambitions of all Governments to tackle social isolation and loneliness. It will not only deny some people the ability to access crucial information including public awareness campaigns in relation to coronavirus, but it will add to levels of isolation and loneliness.
These changes divert money which should be spent on developing new television programmes and supporting jobs and our wider creative economy. We are already seeing the impact of this with the announcement by the BBC on cuts to important news and current affairs and the most recent announcement on cuts to services across the nations and regions. Once again, this will directly impact on the service provided by the BBC to viewers and listeners in Scotland and the rest of the UK.
Ultimately, as I have said before, the responsibility lies with the UK Government. Wellbeing policy should not be decided by the BBC, and I strongly urge you to recognise the responsibility your government has to our older population and fund free licences for the over 75s.