Local MP Patricia Gibson speaks out over plan to charge for TV licence


By Patricia Gibson, MP for North Ayrshire and Arran 

The UK Tory Government has decided to scrap the free TV licence fee for over-75s.

They are rolling back on a manifesto pledge to maintain pensioner benefits, including free TV licences.

At present, all households with someone aged over 75 are entitled to receive free TV licences, funded by the UK Government to help tackle pensioner poverty and isolation. The Tories have now decided to cease funding completely from next year.

The UK Government has abrogated its responsibility and left the BBC to decide on whether to charge over 75s. Without UK Government support, if the BBC decides not to charge, it will have £745 million less to spend annually on programmes, the combined budget of BBC2, BBC4 and Radio3.

Options being considered range from the BBC taking on the funding, seeking partial payment or removing the concession entirely.

Former BBC Director-General Greg Dyke, suggested that leaving the BBC to pick up the tab would impact on programme quality. He said: “Let’s not kid ourselves this won’t have an impact on what the BBC will supply. it will!”

More than 9,000 of my North Ayrshire and Arran constituents are over 75 and each would be detrimentally affected if the concessionary licence is scrapped.

According to the BBC’s own figures, scrapping the over 75s concessionary licence will take an average of more than £22,000 a week out of the pockets of over 75s in every single UK constituency.

For many older people, their television is not just a box in a corner, it’s company. Television is a lifeline, particularly for the most vulnerable older people. If mobility issues mean you struggle to get out and about, TV helps you to stay connected. When money is a constant worry and is stressful it’s an escape. When you spend your days alone, it gives you something to look forward to, with people often identifying closely with TV characters and personalities.

Figures show that over 75s watch an average of 33 hours of television a week, compared to eight hours for people in their 20s.

Around half of over 75s live with a disability. Many rely on their TV for companionship and entertainment. For the considerable number who don’t have the internet, TV helps them stay up to date with what’s happening in the world.

From 01 April, the colour licence fee increases to £154.50. Age UK warns that scrapping the concession would push 50,000 over 75s into relative poverty.

Every year people are fined for non-payment of their TV licence. To potentially prosecute people in their 80s and 90s is absolutely unacceptable.

I believe it is vital to support our pensioners. Not only is the UK state pension the lowest in the developed world relative to wages, it has been further damaged by the Tory government’s plans to reduce the eligibility for Pension Credit, leaving some couples out of pocket by £7,320 each year.

Throw in their contempt for women born in the 1950s regarding increases in state pension age, and it’s clear the UK Government has no intention of honouring the contributions our elderly population has made over the years.

The BBC is a broadcaster. Public welfare is not its remit and it should not be expected to decide this. It is the responsibility of the UK Government. Broadcaster Lord Bragg said: “The BBC is not an organisation that should collect taxes (the licence fee) for social purposes. It’s money should be used for making programmes.”

I urge the Tories to honour their manifesto commitment and maintain pensioner benefits, including the TV licence, so that elderly people can continue to enjoy watching television for free.