Scrapping free TV licences for the elderly would hit 2.4million pensioners who live alone, Labour said last night. The BBC has started a consultation
Scrapping free TV licences for the elderly would hit 2.4million pensioners who live alone, Labour said last night.
The BBC has started a consultation on ways to remove the concession from the over-75s from 2020 – or reduce the number receiving it.
Tom Watson, Labour’s culture spokesman, warned that the option of getting rid of the free licences altogether would have a severe impact on the lonely.
‘It’s at Christmas time that the harsh reality of loneliness is felt most keenly across this country,’ he said. ‘If any single older person living on their own loses their free TV licence because the Government has devolved spending cuts to the BBC it will be a tragedy.
Scrapping free TV licences for the elderly would be ‘callous’ and hit 2.4million pensioners who live alone, Labour said last night
‘The word callous won’t cut it, particularly when the Conservatives promised to keep TV licences in their last manifesto and when pensioner poverty is on the rise. We must protect older people living on their own – the Government must step in and save free TV licences for the over-75s.’
Mr Watson pointed to statistics from the House of Commons library that predict around 2.4million people aged 75 or more will be living alone in 2020.
The library also estimates that there are likely to be 751,000 people in this age group living alone and in receipt of pension credit in 2020/21. This means that were the free licence concession limited to just those eligible for the benefit – which is another of the BBC’s options – then 1.6million pensioners living alone would still lose their free licence.
In 2020, the BBC will take over from the Government the responsibility of funding the concession, which is worth £150.50 per home.
Labour said free TV licences were an important benefit for older people who suffer disproportionately from loneliness and social isolation.
The Campaign to End Loneliness has found that 40 per cent of older people say television is their main source of company.
Christmas is a particularly bad time for loneliness and analysis by Age UK found that almost a million pensioners do not see or hear from anyone over the festive period.
The Campaign to End Loneliness has found that 40 per cent of older people say television is their main source of company
Caroline Abrahams, the charity’s director, says pensioners are among the BBC’s most loyal and committed viewers and listeners.
A BBC spokesman said: ‘Free TV licences for people over 75 are expected to cost £745million a year by 2021/22, and government funding for the scheme ends in June 2020.
‘That’s why we have set out a range of options in our consultation – each has merits and consequences, with implications for the future of the BBC, and for everyone, including older people. We need to hear views to help the BBC make the best and fairest decision.’
The BBC it considering several options for reforming the scheme. These include raising the age of eligibility for a free licence to 80, which would align the scheme with other benefits, such as higher winter fuel payments. This would cut the cost by about a third to £481million but leave 1.87million households paying the full fee.
An estimated 4.5million homes receive free television licences. The perk was introduced in 2001.