Calls for action to end ‘madness’ of licence axe

Calls for action to end madness of licence axe
Calls for action to end madness of licence axe

With up to 3.7 million people set to lose their TV licences a charity for elderly people has called on the government to intervene.

More than 590,000 people have signed a petition by Age UK in support of keeping TV licences free for all over-75s.

Wigan Today and its sister titles are asking the government to take action to solve the problem.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK said: “If you go into the home of an older person who is coping with serious health problems and care needs, nine times out of ten their TV has pride of place.

“For this significant group of over-75s getting out and about is hard or impossible and many live alone and spend most or all of the day on their own. In these circumstances the TV plays an incredibly important role – informer, entertainer and friend.

“This is what many thousands of older people have contacted Age UK to say – it is clear that the TV means a lot more to greater numbers of older people than the government or the BBC have understood.

“For less than 0.1 per cent of total public spending the new Prime Minister, whoever they may be, can end this madness at the stroke of a pen.

“We call on him to commit to continuing to fund free TV licences for all over-75s until 2022 when the issue can be looked at in the round as part of the next BBC funding settlement, or earlier as part of a comprehensive spending review if we get one before then.”

The BBC said it was unable to fund the benefit except for those on pension credit, after the costs of free licences were passed onto them by the government. It said that it will be scrapping the free licences for those who do not receive pension credit from June 2020.

The broadcaster said that it currently costs £750 million per year. Figures quoted by Age UK show that 1.3 million over-75s, 29 per cent, have difficulty with at least one daily activity such as dressing, bathing or showering, or getting in and out of bed.

Of that number, 700,000s have difficulty with at least two daily activities and 390,000 have difficult with at least three. An additional 23,000 over-75s are bedbound.

The charity is warning that these are the older people who will be among the hardest hit by the BBC’s decision.

A big extra bill on top of the other challenges and health costs that many in this group are facing will be a bitter blow and a source of huge anxiety, the charity said.

Shadow Cabinet Minister Jon Trickett has accused the government of breaking a promise as nearly 5,000 households in his constituency look set to lose their free TV licence.

Mr Trickett said the Tories pledged to keep the benefit in their 2017 General Election manifesto.

He said: “Free TV licences are an important tool in the battle against loneliness and social isolation. Four in 10 older people say the television is their main source of company.

“In the 2017 Conservative Party Manifesto, the government pledged to keep free TV licenses until the end of this parliament in 2022, but now they have gone back on their word and have plans to scrap them.

“The government has outsourced responsibility and the financial burden of free licences for over-75s to the BBC, and now free TV licences are set to be curtailed or cut completely from 2020. For a government that claims to have the interests of elderly people at the forefront, they are increasingly leaving them by the wayside.”