‘TO HOBBLE the BBC in this way is, as one MP has already described, a piece of cultural vandalism. The government must face up to its responsibilities and fund the fee for the over-75s – and not make the BBC the villain of the piece as it will no doubt be portrayed,’ journalists’ union NUJ general secretary, Michelle Stanistreet, said yesterday.
She was reacting to the news that the BBC is to go ahead with a plan to end free TV licences for most over-75s, after a two-month delay because of the coronavirus pandemic.
That means more than three million households will be asked to start paying the £157.50 fee from 1 August. Only those who receive the Pension Credit benefit will be exempt.
Tory Culture Secretary of State Oliver Dowden avoided announcing the change during Parliament yesterday and instead dropped the news at the 5pm briefing when asked a question by reporters.
At the press conferenceDowden disowned all government responsibility. He said: ‘I very much regret the decision that the BBC has taken. We gave the settlement to the BBC back in 2015. They said that it was a good settlement.
‘I regret they could not find efficiency savings in order to avoid having to impose the licence fee on the over-75s.’
The charity Age Concern called it ‘the wrong decision’ and Age UK called it ‘a kick in the teeth’.
Age UK director Caroline Abrahams said many older people would either have to give up their TV, which is ‘more of a lifeline than ever’, or other essential purchases.
‘Everyone needs to understand that under the BBC’s scheme many hundreds of thousands of the poorest pensioners will be facing a bill they will simply be unable to afford to pay,’ she said.
Labour’s shadow culture secretary Jo Stevens said: ‘The refusal of the government to fund this vital service after promising to do so is nothing short of betrayal.
‘Many over-75s have spent months at home with TV providing an invaluable source of company during the pandemic. For the government to blame the BBC who are having to contend with huge cuts is simply passing the buck.’
John Phillips, GMB Acting General Secretary, said: ‘Scrapping TV licences for over 75s is both cruel and unnecessary.
‘It’s ministers who have pulled the plug on older people and are now seeking to shift the blame onto the BBC. Their efforts to pull the wool over the public’s eyes will fail.
‘The Conservatives must stop trying to pass the buck – they have double-crossed millions of pensioners with their broken promises.’
The BBC has announced 450 jobs are to go across England and 150 in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Planned cuts in News of more than 400 posts had been put on hold but the consultation process is expected to commence in the coming months.