The National Pensioners’ Convention is calling on new BBC Director General Tim Davie to review the corporation’s decision to means-test and pursue over 75’s for non-payment of their TV licence fees.
The UK’s largest campaigning organisation for older people says the BBC’s decision to axe free TV licences for all over 75’s in a bid to save money is not only hugely ‘unfair’ on the country’s poorest and most vulnerable, it is a staggeringly false economy.
The NPC, with 1.5million members, has been campaigning to stop the withdrawal of the universal entitlement which was previously the responsibility of the Government. Members mounted nationwide protests in the days before the free licence was finally axed on 1st August 2020 and are continuing to campaign for its retention.
In a letter to Mr Davie, General Secretary Jan Shortt re-states the NPC’s view that while the free licence should still be the Government’s responsibility, the BBC has made ‘no genuine attempt’ in the past five years to find a solution to an issue that will further isolate millions of over 75’s.
She also agrees with the Office for Budget Responsibility’s recent analysis that the BBC’s measures ‘may well raise welfare spending by more than it reduces BBC spending’ as it plunges even more older people into poverty.
The letter states: “The free TV licence is an element of a wider package of universal entitlements to supplement the poorest state pension in the economically developed world. Social welfare is the sole responsibility of the government of the day, not an unelected Broadcasting Corporation. Our campaign has focussed on getting the government to take back that responsibility and the accountability that goes with it.
She adds: “The NPC absolutely understands the economic situation caused by COVID-19, and with that the greater reliance placed on access to TV and radio by older people to receive updated news, guidance and programmes that help us. However, there are now 1.9 million pensioners living in poverty in the UK (Age UK). It is expected that a further 50,000 (possibly more) pensioners who are just above the pension credit threshold will be pushed into poverty with no access to assistance.
“The BBC has had in effect five years to look at its economic situation and how that would impact on providing free TV licences for over 75s. In those five years, our members have seen no genuine attempt to take on board the opinions of viewers in respect to highly paid presenters, the programme schedules and other areas that were identified to be looked at.
“It’s only answer has been to means-test the TV licence fee for over 75s – an archaic, costly, unfair way of judging who should have access to a particular service. Certainly in the 21st Century and in a still wealthy country like the UK, it is unacceptable. “
The UK’s largest campaigning organisation for older people, with 1.5 million members, has asked to meet Mr Davie and discuss ‘alternative ways of funding the BBC in the future that do not further exclude the most vulnerable.’
The NPC was pleased to note in Mr. Davie's first statement as Director General of the BBC that he does not intend to increase the use of subscription only services. These would inevitably serve to exclude the majority of older people. However, it was concerning to see that in his plans for equality and diversity, he has omitted one characteristic - age - which is unacceptable. We hope this is an oversight that he will correct very soon.
*The full tract of the NPC’s letter is downloadable below.