View from the street: Ending free TV licences for all over-75s is an act of cruelty

Janet Shapiro wonders why Boris doesn't do a U-turn on ending pensioners TV-licences.

Janet Shapiro wonders why Boris doesn't do a U-turn on ending pensioners TV-licences. - Credit: Archant

3.7 million UK pensioners over 75 have to pay for their TV licence, from August 1, as the BBC’s decision to means-test this benefit is enacted, meaning that only over 75s who are on Pension Credit will get the free TV licence.

Boris Johnson says this is wrong. So why doesn’t he act to stop it? It was the Tory government under Theresa May that included responsibility for this Universal Benefit in the BBC’s contract. If he really thinks it is wrong, Johnson could revoke this decision. But he has completely ignored Age UK’s petition with nearly 700,000 signatures.

Right now, during this pandemic, it has become increasingly clear that the TV gives vulnerable lonely people a window on the world – not only is it a companion, but programmes are something to look forward to, to break the monotony, to revive memories and show what’s new. We are living longer, but many, especially in poor areas, spend more years with a disability. Ending the free TV licence to all over-75s is an act of cruelty.

But it is more than that. There is a legal question. The UK state pension remains amongst the least adequate in Europe, with the risk of poverty among older people ranked fourth out of 27 EU countries. However, rather than increase the basic state pension, successive governments have brought in universal benefits, ie free bus travel, winter fuel payments, free prescriptions for over 60s, eye tests, and free TV licences for over 75s.

Now that the government has broken its contract with pensioners on the free TV licence, will it seek to take this further – to other universal benefits? The BBC has been landed with responsibility for the free TV licence, so what’s to stop government ending concessionary travel and telling the NHS to make pensioners pay for prescriptions?