Non-means tested free TV licence plan for over-75s binned
We’ve been here before, haven’t we? Anyone with half a brain would know that a Conservative Party election promise has the longevity of a Primark suit. As we age, our brain power begins to wane unless we exercise our mind with sudokus, quizzes or other creative activities.
Today’s over 75s might forget where they have left the remote control. Some of them might remember life before the National Health Service or their father going out to war. They might have vague recollections of their mother’s role in the Home Guard. Some of them might have made British television a force to be reckoned with: whether backstage, in camera, or beside the Winter Hill transmitter in freezing temperatures. A substantial number base their everyday lives around the television set.
Before the 2017 General Election, the Conservative Party Manifesto stated they would keep the free TV Licence for over 75s. Yesterday we found they have reneged on that pledge.
Yes, another addition to their long list of abandoned pledges since 1979. See also the addition of VAT to utility bills under John Major’s government. The timing of which coincided with the latest Tory psychodrama: BoJo versus the other six wannabe Tory leaders. I wouldn’t trust any of them with my Pilot V5 technical pens, let alone their abilities to fund the BBC, NHS or local government.
Why have the TV Licence rebate changes caused a hoo-hah? To a point, Joe Public thinks aged persons are likely to vote Conservative. By association, likely to favour leaving the European Union, thus transferring their vote to the Brexit Party®. For many, the television set is a window to the outside world.
The over 75s’ free TV Licence, till the 21 June, is one of the UK’s few truly universal benefits. Not universal in the Universal Credit sense, but universal in being available to aged persons regardless of income. It’s a thank-you for helping to fund the World Service, BBC’s local radio stations, and the Beeb’s internet presence as well as EastEnders.
With the over 75s’ rebate only being open to Pension Credit claimants, does the phrase ‘mission creep’ spring to mind? How long will it be before they consider doing the same with bus passes?
A few people may be quick to blame the BBC for being greedy. In 2010, the then-Culture Secretary and Tory leadership hopeful Jeremy Hunt wanted the BBC to pay for the over 75s’ rebate. As stated on LBC’s website, his earlier attempt to undermine the over 75s’ rebate was blocked by Lord Foster.
In 2015, George Osborne struck a deal where he phased out HM Government’s contribution to the scheme. The subsidy would have been phased out from 2020 onwards.
Like the NHS, it is part of the Tories’ refusal to fund anything that is life enriching. The over 75s’ rebate, when introduced in 1999, was funded as part of social security spending. Today, the cost is being transferred to the BBC – money that could have been spent on new programmes and boosting their local radio stations.
It seems that the Tories may be happy to let people blame the Beeb for being greedy. Therefore they would try to defund the BBC even further by abolishing the TV Licence. The result of which may be advertising and/or privatisation – or Question Time being sponsored by Danepak.
A window to the outside world
For elderly people, the television set is more than the viewer’s daily fix of Bargain Hunt or the odd quiz show. It is a conversation starter instead of a conversation killer. S/he could be talking about news stories or wondering why a couple on Bargain Hunt have bought half a dozen vesta cases.
If they are watching a travel programme or interested in forthcoming events on regional bulletins, the television is an enticement to book a flight or catch a bus. With internet access, a neat alliance of old media and new media forms.
With the British State Pension one of the lowest in the developing world, £154.50 a year is a big ask. Paying by instalments could be prohibitive and, like the BBC, persons aged 75 and up, would like to spend their money on other things. Money that could be spent on grandchildren or as part of a holiday.
If they cannot afford a TV Licence they are cut off from part of the outside world. Also from popular culture; friendly faces on their regional news bulletin; also a sense of balance based around the TV schedules.
Like radio, television can touch us at a personal level. It gives us a quasi-platonic relationship with its presenters. It can entertain, inform, and frustrate in equal measure.
As for the free TV licence promise in 2017, we think they may have put this on the side of a bus. Only one problem, that bus never showed – it was probably missing or withdrawn in the last two years.
Whether the backlash prompts the Tory leadership candidates to honour the promise remains to be seen. We have our doubts.
S.V., 13 June 2019.