Millions of Pensioners Face Being Criminalised Over TV Licence Farce

Life for millions of the most lonely, vulnerable, and poorest pensioners across the UK just got tougher from 1st August.

Three million over 75-year olds lost their automatic access to free TV licences and now face the £157.50 cost from their meagre fixed incomes. Failure to pay for the licence could result in a court appearance as it remains a criminal offence in the UK not to possess a TV licence if they own an operating television set.

Hundreds of thousands of the UK’s poorest senior citizens could be criminalised and even imprisoned on the back of a shoddy Tory government decision in 2015 to stop funding these licences and making the British Broadcasting Corporation responsible for footing the £750 million bill. The Tories and the BBC are the villains here, but it is the pensioners who are the victims.

I refuse to absolve the BBC of blame for this troubling situation. They are an elitist organisation with an annual income in the region of £5 billion per annum who fritter public licence money away on extravagant and obscene presenter and senior executive salaries. They are run by a privately educated network of top bosses with a multitude of links to the British Establishment who have vested interests in maintaining the status quo of inequality of incomes and power which scar society.

BBC Defends Rich and Powerful Always

Reading the available information on salaries paid out by the BBC is sure to make your blood boil and their in-built conservative bias against striking workers, for military interventions and against Scottish independence makes me question their ‘public broadcaster’ label.

The BBC do not exist to represent and defend the public, they exist to represent and defend the rich and powerful in society. Witness their anti-National Union of Miners and Arthur Scargill coverage during the 1984-85 strike, their Ministry of Defence propagandising in the run up to the Iraq invasion of 2003 and bombings of Afghanistan, Libya and Syria as well as their biased pro-Britain coverage of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum.

Their disgraceful and deliberate destruction of Labour’s most left wing leader Jeremy Corbyn with baseless knocking piece after baseless knocking piece illustrated clearly their commitment to defending the status quo from any troublesome danger intent on reversing inequalities of wealth and power. They managed to portray a life-long and active anti-racist as an anti-Semite through extended coverage of Corbyn and anti-Semitism stories which had not a morsel of credibility but caused considerable damage nonetheless.

The BBC is simply not fit for purpose and requires to be radically overhauled or its public funding status removed. Political impartiality is what public funding should produce and on that front the BBC is found guilty of consistently failing to deliver.

Over-75s Granted Free TV Licences Since 2000

However free TV Licences for pensioners over-75 have been paid for by central government since 2000. To scrap the payment is yet another Tory assault on poor pensioners. The context to this move is crucial.

After ten years of Tory austerity the numbers driven into poverty in the sixth richest economy in the world have reached 14 million and almost 2 million of that total are pensioners. Pensioner poverty according to official figures now affects 16% of the pensioner population and has grown significantly since 2010 but that figure is estimated to be considerably below reality as it is based on the numbers claiming means tested pension credit and up to 40% of those entitled to that benefit do not claim.

The fact Pension Credit had to be introduced in 2003 reflected the gross inadequacy of state pensions in the UK. It is not widely enough known but UK state pension provision is not just bad it is actually the worst in the developed world, ranking bottom of the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) group of nations.

Instead of a generous and universally available living pension available to all pensioners on reaching retirement age the UK has an overcomplicated patchwork quilt approach to pensions which is confusing and leaves millions reliant on means tested top-ups which are often poorly promoted and made deliberately difficult to claim.

Incredibly, two in five pensioners are entitled to an extra £173.75 a week as single pensioners and £265.20 a week as a pensioner couple through the means tested Pension Credit benefit and that then entitles those pensioners to additional support with council tax bills, dental charges and housing costs but they simply don’t claim the extra income because they are unaware of their entitlement, find it difficult to claim it or a combination of both.

‘Nasty’ Tories Exhibit No Signs of Care or Compassion

Since 2017 the unclaimed Pension Credit has amounted to £3.5 billion a year, a £10.5 billion saving to the Tory government who haven’t lifted a finger to promote, advertise and/or pro-actively ensure pensioners are getting what they are actually entitled to. It is a reprehensible failure of government and something they should be ashamed of but when we have the ‘nasty party’ in charge should we really expect anything less than selfish, uncaring government.

This is the party of the deplorable bedroom tax which was an Exocet missile aimed at poor and disabled households.

This is the party which explains away the inexorable rise in foodbank reliance for survival for millions as no more than a ‘cash flow problem’ rather than clear evidence that the welfare state is failing.

Their ‘two-child policy’ in relation to child tax credits and universal credits plumbs new depths of inhumanity. Its inherent heartlessness is exposed most by its “rape clause” and anyone with a sense of decency must support it being scrapped.

People with degenerative diseases are ordered to appear for difficult, futile and embarrassing reassessments for their benefits with staff instructed to reach callous targets for savings unconnected with any semblance of human compassion or care.

The streets of London are paved with gold for the increased number of millionaires and billionaires who have residences there for business reasons but those very same streets and many other cities across the UK are increasingly overwhelmed with rough sleepers unable to access permanent housing and struggling to cope with multiple addiction and mental health problems.

Thousands in receipt of benefits are sanctioned for missing job centre appointments, with a ruthless disregard for legitimate reasons like taking a child to hospital, visiting a dying parent in hospital or even for attending a job interview.

Tory Callousness Expressed in Minister’s Let Them Listen to Radio Remark

This decision in relation to scrapping free TV licences for over-75s comes at a time of even greater financial uncertainty for households across the UK due to COVID-19, and when many people in later life are experiencing increased social isolation and loneliness due to lockdown and shielding measures which are only now being lifted in stages. But the heartless Tories just don’t give a damn. Their attitude was summed up by Minister of State John Whittingdale and his ‘let them eat cake’ type remark during an emergency question debate on the removal of the TV licences ten days ago in Parliament:

Owen Thompson SNP Whip

Age UK has said that many older people on low incomes have told it that if they are to find £150 or more a year to pay for a licence fee, they will have to forgo other essentials or try to survive without a TV at all. Given that TV news is the only source of information for some older people, particularly during the current pandemic, what would the Minister propose as an alternative way of getting this vital information to those who will no longer be able to afford to watch telly?

John Whittingdale Minister of State

I very much hope that those on low incomes will take up pension credit and so continue to be able to watch television, but of course there are other means. If people are anxious to obtain information, they can listen to any number of BBC radio channels and do not require to have a TV licence”.

These Tories just do not care about the hardship their policies cause. So, what if poor pensioners over-75 now can’t afford a licence and won’t have access to TVs let them listen to the radio instead. It is shocking but typical disregard for the poor.

The BBC are exempting the over-75s who are in receipt of Pension Credit, but it is simply not a concession worthy of applause. The figures show millions of pensioners poor enough to qualify for Pension Credit don’t claim it so the BBC will be pursuing poor senior citizens in the courts should they carry out their threats to chase up on licence non-payers. Even those in their 80s and 90s could be summoned to court and criminalised.

But there is an even bigger quandary here. What on earth is the material difference between a 73-year-old pensioner poor enough to qualify for Pension Credit and a 75-year-old pensioner in the same boat? One qualifies for a free TV licence while the other does not. Not good enough.

All Pensioners Should Qualify Automatically for Free TV Licences

I believe all pensioner households should qualify for free TV licences. Let’s scrap the artificial and silly differential between a 73-year-old and a 75-year-old. Once you reach retirement age you will have been paying for the licence fee for decades. You have earned your free licence.

There is a serious debate to be had about the future of the BBC as an institution but in the immediate term all pensioners should be entitled to a free licence automatically. In a fairer society based on progressive taxation the richest in society, including many rich pensioners, should be paying more in taxes to pay for the care and support of the less fortunate. That is what fair, progressive and redistributive taxation delivers.

Over the coming months each of us able to must be prepared to show solidarity, including physical solidarity, with any pensioner being pursued over non-payment of the TV licence. We must not allow a single pensioner household to be intimidated or harassed by goons despatched by the BBC to collect monies in order for them to continuing paying the extreme salaries and fees to executives and presenters who simply do not merit the bloated payments they receive. In the near future we may have to consider an all-encompassing non-payment campaign in relation to the licence fee but right now let’s defend any and all pensioners who cannot or will not pay.

I have a feeling the words penned by my singer/songwriter friend Bobby Nicholson will soon be more generally acknowledged by all of us ‘Stuff yer licence BBC’.

Posted in Articles, Tommy Sheridan's Columns.

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