Wednesday, 12 Aug 2020

BBC shamed: Broadcaster savaged by charity over scrapping free TV licence for OAPs

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Earlier this week, BBC Director General Tony Hall admitted the broadcaster will face the “difficult decision” to further delay the introduction of a controversial over-75s licence fee after being forced to postpone the payment because of the coronavirus pandemic. The BBC has faced a major backlash after announcing last year they would stop over-75s receiving free TV licences. Plans had been afoot to begin taking payments from this age group in June, but the broadcaster delayed the move because of the coronavirus crisis sweeping through the country.

Lord Hall admitted the BBC has not yet decided whether to postpone the changes beyond August.

Now Age UK, which aims to help millions of older people to know their rights and make the best choices for later life, has urged the “BBC and the Government to sit down and agree a way forward”.

The charity said many pensioners have heavily relied on TV as their main source of news and information during the coronavirus lockdown.

Age UK added that for many, the importance of TV to them has increased substantially since the COVID-19 outbreak began.

Nearly one million people over the age of 70 in England have been on the shielded patient list for coronavirus and although lockdown measures are gradually being lifted, the charity said they will continue to spend almost all their time at home and likely to be advised by their GPs to remain extremely cautious.

Age UK director Caroline Abrahams said: “The over-75s in our society have been through a torrid time because of the pandemic, and we all know it’s not over yet…

“As people in late old age are at the greatest risk of becoming seriously ill or dying if they contract it, this means our over-75s are going to have to be cautious and stay safe at home as much as they reasonably can.

“TV is extremely important to many older people at the happiest of times but it has taken on a whole new meaning at this time of danger and crisis, when access to authoritative information matters so much.”

She continued: “Many older people are hugely appreciative of how well our broadcasters have kept them informed during the pandemic…

“It would be a tragedy if some of these older people lost the support, information and companionship they receive from their TV … because they can no longer afford to buy a licence under the BBC’s new scheme.

“While COVID-19 continues to hang like a shadow over our older population, which it will do for the foreseeable future, it would be unbelievably cruel to scrap free TV licences for the over-75s.

“That’s why now, more than ever, it is time for the BBC and the Government to sit down and agree a way forward which safeguards these older people’s access to TV.”

The BBC has insisted it is keeping its decision to delay charging over-75s for a TV licence “under review”.

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The BBC took on responsibility for funding the scheme as part of the charter agreement struck with the Government in 2015.

But the broadcaster has insisted it can no longer afford to take ion the financial burden.

A BBC spokeswoman said: “The Government decided to end the free TV licence for the over-75s and gave the BBC Board responsibility to decide on its future.

“We consulted with the public and reached the fairest decision possible, to support the poorest oldest pensioners.

“We delayed the introduction of the new scheme until August as a result of the pandemic, and we are keeping that decision under review.

“During lockdown the BBC has played an important role informing, educating and entertaining all our audiences, including older people. The Board will announce its decision this month.”

Shadow Minister for Media Chris Matheson accused the Conservative Government of breaking their general election manifesto commitment to protect over-75s from paying a TV licence fee.

He said: “Age UK’s survey has proved what we already knew – that TV is an absolute lifeline for many older people who struggle to get out.

“Lockdown has highlighted the role it plays in informing, entertaining and helping the most isolated maintain a connection to the wider world.

“The Tory Government has broken their manifesto commitment to protect the over-75 licence fee and any attempt to push the cost on the BBC is just a cowardly way of cutting this vital lifeline.”

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