Opinion: Concern for the future of the BBC

Hornsey Pensioners Action Group member Pearl Diver is fighting to keep the free TV Licence for the o

Hornsey Pensioners Action Group member Pearl Diver is fighting to keep the free TV Licence for the over-75s. - Credit: Archant

“Don’t switch us off!” protested hundreds of pensioners all over the UK on June 21, 2019.

Your letter pages on June 27 carried a photograph of London Region members of the National Pensioners Convention (NPC) marching from BBC headquarters to Oxford Circus, with the banner of Hornsey Pensioners Action Group (HPAG) visible. Pensioners were protesting against the BBC's decision to stop the concessionary TV licence for over 75.

There is widespread condemnation across the board, as 3.7 million people will be affected by the loss of this concession. People feel that it was only right and just that pensioners over 75, many of whom may suffer from chronic illness or disability, should continue to have access to television that could be their only source of company and entertainment.

In The Daily Express on February 17, Age UK drew attention to veterans, those retired on military pensions, of whom more than a million are now in old age and coping with serious health problems, but those over 75 may lose their free TV licence. Jan Shortt, general secretary of NPC pointed out that they get "a tiny army forces pension that means their income is just over the Pension Credit qualifying threshold for a free TV licence", adding: "Pension Credit is the gateway to other concessions such as free dentistry, free glasses and help with housing costs and council tax."

Any decision about universal pensioner benefits is a governmental responsibility (Department of Work and Pensions) not the BBC. Such benefits were designed to compensate for the UK having the lowest state pension in OECD countries, likewise Pension Credit, for which the take up is still shockingly low.

The BBC suffered a substantial cut in funding when the government forced it to take on the costs of the over-75s free licence.

Now the BBC is being blamed for deciding to means test this concession.

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Did the government want pensioners to attack the BBC?

Members of the Broadcasting Entertainment & Theatre Union (BECTU), the union representing workers in the media, have started an online petition 'Love it or lose it: Save the BBC': campaign.goingtowork.org.uk/petitions/love-it-or-lose-it-save-the-bbc

The BBC is considered to be a public communications service; the group We Own It (weownit.org.uk) is committed to saving the BBC.

Michael Burke chaired The Moral Maze on February 12. The moral purpose of the BBC was discussed including problems: the disparity of viewing habits, accusations of bias and presenters lacking diversity. In particular more people (particularly the young) get their entertainment from other sources and some argue for a subscription model where people will pay only if they use the BBC.

Certainly there is an urgent need for the BBC to adapt in this digital age. There is good practice, such as the 12 million viewers on Freeview—who are often the poorest. But as a top brand in the world the BBC needs both secure funding and independence. If guaranteed funding, such as the universal licence fee was removed, standards would fall.

As yet the government's intentions are not clear and I for one feel very concerned about it getting its hands on the BBC which gave me my earliest contact with radio with Listen With Mother and now entertains my grandchildren with its fabulous television programmes.