The BBC has come under fire this week for its decision to axe free TV licenses for over-75s.
Hundreds of thousands of people have signed a “Save Our Free TV Licence” petition demanding the broadcasting corporation reverses its decision, with Piers Morgan, David Davis and Matt Hancock among the high-profile names backing the campaign.
The irony that Tory MPs are among the people most vehemently opposing the move has not escaped everyone. When the agreement that the BBC should fund the cost of free television licences for the over-75s was reached in 2015 it was voted through by all Conservatives. It left the corporation with no option but start to charge or lose a huge amount of revenue. As many within their ranks would surely agree, someone has to pay for it, why should the burden fall on the rest of society?
Of course, those who cannot afford to pay should get help, and so they will. Under the new proposals low-income households where one person receives pension credit benefit will still be eligible for a free licence, which could benefit up to 1.5 million people by 2020. For those who don’t qualify a modest 42p-a-day charge will be payable in order to keep the lights on at the most at-risk channels and stations, including the BBC News Channel, BBC Scotland and Radio 5live.
To which I say – fair enough.
The 21st century has seen a dramatic turnaround in the fortunes of different generations. Estimates from the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggest the median income of pensioners is now higher than the median income of the rest of the population, with their income growth outstripping wage rises. In 2018 the median disposable income for retired households increased by £300 (1.4 per cent) after benefits, taxes and inflation were taken into account, while non-retired households experienced a lowly 0.6 per cent rise over the same period.
Since the financial crisis income among working people has fallen by 1.2 per cent while income among retired people has risen by 13 per cent – demonstrating a “marked improvement” in their living standards, a BBC-commissioned reported noted. In short, since the government began funding free TV licenses for the over-75s in 2000 things have changed – and it’s high time we notice that.
But it comes as no surprise that there might be backlash against the move. The Tories will always look to woo those over the age of 55 given that over half their membership fits into that category, and day-time TV presenters such as Morgan will also be well aware of their audience demographics. Yet we should spare a thought for the younger generations in considering changes to regressive benefits such as this.
The young were never gifted higher education. They will never have affordable housing and they will long be at the hands of a fragile jobs market which does little more than pay their way. Of course we can always point the finger at inflated salaries within the Beeb and call for their top earners to take a paycut. But that’s a very simple solution to a complex problem. The reality is that age-related benefits are outdated, and it’s about time we redress the balance.