Debbie Abrahams, MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth, has hit out at options being put forward in a consultation by the BBC on the future of the free TV licence – for households with at least one person aged over 75 – which could mean around 4,080 local households will lose it.
New figures produced by the House of Commons Library show that under each of the changes proposed by the BBC in their consultation millions of pensioners nationwide will lose their free licences.
Debbie said: “Under these proposals the House of Commons Library has calculated over 4,000 older households in Oldham East and Saddleworth are at risk of losing their free TV licences.
“And millions of older people across the country would lose their TV licence in 2020 despite the Conservatives promising in their 2017 general election manifesto to protect free TV licences until 2022.”
As part of the last BBC charter the Government devolved responsibility for the free TV licence policy, and the cost, to the BBC. The BBC can decide what to do with the free TV licence scheme from 2020 and they are currently consulting on a number of options including scrapping the free TV licence concession altogether, raising the eligible age to 80 and means testing it, for example by linking it to Pension Credit.
The House of Commons Library calculated that if the free licence was means tested by being linked to Pension Credit, over 3 million people would lose their free licence. If the eligibility age was raised to 80 over 1.8 million older people would lose their free licences.
Debbie added: “If the age threshold is raised to 80 years old around 2,430 households in Oldham East and Saddleworth will lose their TV licence and if free TV licences are means tested 4,080 local households are estimated to lose their free licences.
“Free TV licences are an important benefit for older people who suffer disproportionately from loneliness and social isolation. The Campaign to End Loneliness found that 40% of older people say their television is their main source of company.
“The prospect of elderly people losing their free TV licences makes a mockery of Theresa May’s claim that austerity is over. The Government should take responsibility and save TV licences for the elderly.
“The Tory Government knew what it was doing when it transferred the cost of paying for free licences for over 75s out to the BBC.
“Labour was completely opposed to this and we are still firmly of the belief that the Government was totally wrong to outsource a social policy in this way.
“It will be a terrible blow to older people who already struggle to make ends meet and particularly to those who are housebound or isolated and rely on their TV for company.
“The Government needs come clean and to tell us urgently what they are going to do to ensure free TV licences aren’t cut and they don’t break their manifesto promise. If they do nothing, responsibility for older people losing their TV licences will rest firmly at their feet.”
The BBC has launched a consultation, which will run until 12 February 2019, to gather views on the best way forward: https://www.bbc.com/yoursay/consultation.pdf