St Helens Labour Councillors have called on the government to reverse the decision to scrap free TV licences for the over-75s.
Earlier this year the BBC announced up to 3.7 million pensioners will have to start paying £154.50 a year from next June, with only households on pension credit benefit remaining exempt.
The decision came after the government announced in 2015 the BBC would take over the cost of providing free licences for over-75s by 2020 as part of the fee settlement. This would cost the BBC £745 million by 2021-22, which equates to a fifth of its budget.
The BBC estimates the new scheme will cost around £250 million by 2021-22, depending on the take-up.
But last month, Boris Johnson told reporters at the G7 summit the BBC should “cough up” and fund all of the free TV licenses for over-75s
This was after the Prime Minister was asked if the Tories would honour their 2017 manifesto pledge to protect pensioners’ benefits, including free TV licences.
This week, a motion was brought by Cllr Barrie Grunewald, Labour Councillor for Rainhill, calling on the government to honour the Conservative Party’s 2017 manifesto promise to maintain free TV licences for over-75s. You can read the motion here: http://moderngov.sthelens.gov.uk/documents/s89246/Motion%203%20Cllr%20Grunewald.pdf
Speaking at the Council meeting, Cllr Grunewald said: “Keeping TV licences free for all over-75 would require unprecedented cuts to the BBC’s spending on broadcasting and content. This is political cowardice.
If the government want to cut free TV licences for over-75 they should say so— they should include it in the manifesto and let the public decide on the policy.
If the government want to cut the BBC’s budget by a fifth, they should say so— they should put it in the manifesto and let the public have their say at the ballot box.
Passing the buck to the BBC was not a decision made in the national interest, or for the benefit of older people. It was designed to give the government political cover to cut a popular policy.
“This is austerity by stealth. The Conservative party made a commitment to the older people of this country, so now the government should act and take both the policy and the financial responsibility for funding free TV licences for over-75 back in-house — the two should not be separated.”
Free TV licences for the over 75s helps to tackle poverty, isolation and loneliness. It is those who are barely scraping by who will suffer. 4.5 million older people in receipt of free TV licences will be betrayed unless the government acts.
It’s shameful the Conservative government are scrapping it and those that support it should hang their heads in shame.
Lots of older people have struggled throughout their working life to save a little extra for retirement.
But that small pot of savings for a rainy day means they don’t qualify for means-tested benefits. Others are coping with the costs of ill-health or disability.
Removing older people’s access to TV would be an unthinkably cruel blow when many are already facing huge challenges.
Our social contract, whereby people who work hard all their lives are afforded comfort in old age, is being slowly but certainly unpicked.
Free TV licences are a small but important part of that social contract. Taking them away will force older people into poverty and leave many more feeling isolated and alone.
Rather than standing by their manifesto promise and standing up for dignity and comfort in old age, the Government are taking it away.”
The motion received cross party support and was passed following a vote. The council’s chief executive will write to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Director General of the BBC asking them both to take steps to protect the future of the free TV licences for over-75s.