The Government should show compassion for our elderly and restore free TV licences for over 75s
According to Age UK, around 2.1 million over-75s rely on TV as their main source of company, writes Lord Foulkes. | PA Images
Rather than celebrate its success 20 years on, we now fight for the survival of this vital social benefit, which continues to serve as a key lifeline for many older people confined to their homes during the coronavirus pandemic.
This year we mark the 20th Anniversary of the introduction of free TV licences for those over 75.
Introduced in 2000 by a sympathetic and compassionate Chancellor, Gordon Brown, alongside other key universal benefits, it remains a progressive Labour policy that has helped reduce pensioner poverty and importantly combat loneliness.
TV plays an incredibly important role in the everyday lives of many older people, providing a primary source of information, entertainment and above all, connection with the outside world.
According to Age UK, around 2.1 million over-75s rely on TV as their main source of company.
Yet, rather than celebrate its success 20 years on, we now fight for the survival of this vital social benefit, which continues to serve as a key lifeline for many older people confined to their homes during the coronavirus pandemic.
Successive Conservative manifestoes have promised to protect free TV licences for over-75s and provide older people with the security and dignity they deserve. However, they have clearly failed to stand by this promise, leaving decisions on the removal of this vital benefit up to the BBC.
This represents yet another abdication of responsibility from the Government, as providing this key benefit should never have been left to the BBC. It is unquestionably a social care issue, as the current pandemic has clearly proved, and the Government should fund it as a social need.
The Government and the BBC seem to understand the stress and anxiety many over-75s face if free TV licences are removed, since they have already delayed the cut off from June to 1st August. However, with less than one month to go until the August deadline, time is running out fast for the BBC to announce a decision.
While current uncertainty surrounding the latest decision continues to cause further stress and anxiety for many older people, another delay would just kick the can down the road, leading to renewed stress further down the line. Ultimately, the proposal to withdraw free TV licences should be scrapped permanently.
The Government has already failed many elderly and vulnerable people during the pandemic, given the crisis that has devastated our care sector.
It should now show some true compassion for our elderly and vulnerable by, as a starting point, ending this and restoring the current position where the Government fund free TV licences for over 75’s as a social need, rather than expecting the already cash strapped BBC to cover the cost.
Today (6th. July) my question to the Minister will give the Government yet another opportunity to show whether they have compassion by standing up and supporting our elderly and vulnerable people.
I also hope that the new Director General of the BBC can start his term of office on a high note by supporting our demands and commit to an indefinite extension by discussing the long-term funding of the concession with the Government.
Lord Foulkes is a Labour Peer in the House of Lords.