Burnley MPJulie Cooper has condemned the Government’s decision to back-track on an election manifesto commitment to maintain free TV licences to the over 75s.
The town's Labour MP delivered a stinging rebuke to Government Ministers for ‘outsourcing’ their 2017 pre-election promise to maintain free TV licences to the over 75s, to the BBC but without any funds to go with it.
The funding shortfall, which currently amounts to £745m. a year, represents 18% of the BBC’s total service budget at a time when operational costs are rising and competition from Sky and Netflix is increasing.
The BBC, which contributes over £100 billion a year to the UK economy, has warned that this is unsustainable and could only be managed by reducing the number of channels and services offered to customers.
In 2000 the Labour Government decided to fund free TV licences for all those aged over 75 in an attempt to help reduce poverty among pensioners.
The BBC was paid money directly from Government funds, to replace the licence fee income lost from free TV licences. However in 2015, the UK Government decided that it would no longer pay for this licence fee concession. The Government funding, which is being abolished in stages, is set to end in March 2020.
In her speech, Mrs Cooper was particularly scathing about the effect of this ‘broken promise’ on the elderly in her Burnley and Padiham constituency:
“The withdrawal of this benefit will be another blow for my constituency, taking £785,610 out of the Burnley economy if free licences are withdrawn for all over 75s. Even if the benefit is means tested and only those over 75 year olds eligible for pension credits are allowed to keep the free licences, the cut to my constituents will still amount to more than half a million pounds.
"For many over 75s, particularly those who live alone, the TV is a lifeline. For so many switching on their TV is their only connection with the outside world, with many being effectively digitally excluded.
"Social isolation is reaching epidemic proportions. The link between loneliness, social isolation and ill-health is well documented. This is another short-sighted Tory shambles destined to lead to more problems and an increased financial load on the NHS.
"It is not the BBC’s responsibility to fund this benefit. The entitlement to free licences for the over 75s is a social benefit and should be funded by the Government as they promised. This makes an absolute mockery of the Prime Minister’s claim that austerity is over. They should do the decent thing, keep their promises, fund this universal service and give our senior citizens the support they deserve.”