I share your concern that millions of older people could lose their free TV licences. The free TV licence was introduced in 2000 in recognition that the licence fee could be a source of concern for many people over the age of 75, nearly 50% of whom were in the lowest three income deciles.
However, in 2015 – as part of the BBC’s Charter renewal – the Government shifted the cost of these licences to the BBC, without the funding to sustain the policy. I opposed this outsourcing of social policy from the start and you can see the speech I made on it here.
The BBC reached an agreement with the Government to take on the cost of providing free TV licences by 2020/21 but it was totally wrong for a decision on social policy to be taken away from politicians and given to the unaccountable BBC. The BBC is now considering whether to keep, reform or end the free TV licence for over-75s. I understand the BBC is expected to reach a decision by summer 2019.
I recognise that many elderly people, along with Age UK, the Campaign to End Loneliness and Silver Voices have expressed concern at any changes to the licence. A recent report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation outlined that pensioner poverty is currently rising, with one in six pensioners currently living in poverty. Ending the free TV licence could see approximately 2.4 million pensioners lose their licence and a further 50,000 pushed below the poverty line.
The TV licence is an important benefit for pensioners who suffer disproportionately from loneliness and social isolation. If TV licences are ended or means-tested, millions of older people, almost half of whom consider television their main source of company, will have to pay to keep the little company they do have.
The current Government was elected on a manifesto which promised to maintain all pensioner benefits, including TV licences. They must keep this promise by taking back responsibility for the TV licence.
I can assure you that I will continue to press the Government to step in and save free TV licences for over-75s