Government should pay subsidy for over-75s, says NUJ
20 November 2018
Today the BBC has launched a public consultation on age-related TV licence policy. The corporation are asking what should be done about free TV licences for people over 75. At the moment people over 75 are entitled to receive a free TV licence, but UK government funding for this concession is coming to an end in 2020.
The consultation information sets out the financial reality of the BBC but fails to ask licence fee payers about the broader financial pressures the BBC faces. The best-case financial outcome of the consultation would be to rule out the ongoing subsidy to the over-75s. There is no room for further 'efficiency' savings and there is a need to boost resources to fund quality journalism, programming and content.
Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:
"This consultation is an important opportunity for the British public to reflect on the current financial pressures our public service broadcaster is facing.
"Forking out for the responsibilities government has ditched on to the BBC in licence fee settlements of the last decade has seen budgets cut by a fifth. This has included making the BBC cover the costs of digital switchover from analogue TV; rural broadband rollout; local TV; funding of Welsh-language channel S4C, funding of the World Service and Monitoring Service; paying for journalists employed by local newspapers to cover local democracy, funding commercial broadcasters to make children’s tv and radio.
"The BBC has only been able to meet these additional responsibilities by cutting costs and despite promises of an end to salami-slicing that inevitably impacts quality programming and journalism, that is what BBC staff have experienced, with further swathes of cuts needed over the next 12 months if the books are to be balanced.
"The NUJ warned that in passing the buck on free TV licences for the over-75s, which comes fully into effect in 2020, the government was turning Aunty into an axe-wielding bogeyman who will be responsible for taking away or means-testing what is a welfare benefit.
"Maintaining this benefit for the over-75s in the same way would be catastrophic for our public service broadcaster – translating as an extra £745milion of costs in 2021/22, a figure that will only head in one direction in an ageing population. If the government want to maintain any form of subsidy for the over-75s they should pay for it, this welfare benefit should not be funded by licence fee payers.
"This consultation sets out clearly the financial reality of the BBC, the context in which those decisions have been made, and the choices facing the BBC board in the coming year. However what it fails to do is ask our views as licence fee payers about the broader financial pressures the BBC faces with successive raids on the licence fee and no real-terms investment into a public service broadcaster that is used by 92 per cent of the British adult population every single week. The best-case financial outcome of this consultation is to rule out ongoing subsidies to the over-75s, at a time when we need to be talking about investing in the BBC, not maintaining the status quo which is in reality opening the door to a managed decline.
"There is no room for further 'efficiency' savings at the BBC – there is a need to boost resources to fund services the licence fee public prizes, the quality journalism, programming and content that informs educates and entertains us day in, day out."