Minister for Older People has written to UK government urging them to fully fund free licences
The Rt Hon Jeremy Wright QC MP
Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
House of Commons
I write to you to express my deep concern regarding the recent decision taken by the BBC on the future of the over 75s licence fee concession.
As you will be aware, this situation arose following a change in UK Government policy, where responsibility for the concession was transferred to the BBC. This in itself was an abdication of responsibility by the UK Government – shifting what should be a welfare policy onto the BBC and removing itself from its responsibility to support older people in this area.
The alternative proposal of a means tested approach is unacceptable. Figures from the Department for Work and Pensions report that in 2016/17, up to 1.3 million families who were entitled to receive Pension Credit did not claim the benefit, yet the Department refuses to advertise it despite repeated calls from the Scottish Government. It is therefore clear that introducing a means-tested waiver based on Pension Credit will fail to help many vulnerable people across Scotland. In addition, the means tested approach will still cost the BBC around £250 million by 2021/22, money which should be spent on developing new programmes and supporting our creative economy.
We know that older people can be at greater risk of social isolation and loneliness, and access to television may be one way in which they can maintain a connection to what is going on around them. This decision therefore is likely to have a negative impact in terms of the Scottish Government’s strategic ambitions of tackling social isolation and loneliness as well as denying some people the ability to access information such as public awareness campaigns.
The decision will also force the most vulnerable older people to make difficult choices about what they can afford – we already know that due to the cost, many older people have to choose whether or not to heat their homes. It is not acceptable to force this choice upon them.
I am conscious that the Scottish population continues to age too. According to the mid-2018 population estimates for Scotland published by National Records of Scotland, the largest increase in population for the period 1998-2018 has been in the 75 and over age group. The population of the 75 and over age group was 454,736 mid-2018 and is projected to increase to 474,049 in 2020, when the change comes into effect, and to 790,109 in 2041.
Ultimately, this responsibility should lie with the UK Government. Welfare policy should not be decided by the BBC, and I strongly urge you to recognise the responsibility your government has to our older population, and fully fund free licences for over 75s.