National Union of Journalists calls on Government keep free licence fees for over 75s

The NUJ has said the government should review its decision to stop funding free-licence fees for the over 75s, and accused the Tories of engaging in 'salami slicing' of the BBC.

The BBC yesterday launched a public consultation on age-related TV licence policy, 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.

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet 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."

“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.”

The shadow culture secretary, Tom Watson, added: "The Tories promised in their 2017 manifesto that free TV licences for the over-75s would last until 2022. Any change to the current system means they will be breaching their manifesto commitment. The government should step in and save TV licences for the elderly.”

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