The decision by BBC management to introduce means testing for free tv licenses for the over-75’s has caused consternation.
So many of our older senior citizens rely on the free tv licence, which was introduced by the last Labour government. It counters social isolation amongst the elderly, and is a benefit enjoyed by 1.6 million pensioners in the UK, and 6,820 pensioner households in Chester alone.
Yet amidst all the criticism for the BBC, there is another side to this story. Because the BBC is not at fault.
Back in 2015, when the BBC’s Charter was up for renewal, the Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, summoned the Chairwoman of the BBC Board, and the Director General of the BBC. He told them that the government would renew the charter, but only if the BBC agreed to pay the cost of the over-75s’ licence.
The BBC bosses were not happy. It’s a huge amount of money, but also it isn’t the BBC’s job to pay state benefits to support the elderly. They are a broadcaster: it must be the role of the state to care for our senior citizens.
However, the Board of the BBC did not put up a fight and eventually agreed to Mr Osborne’s demands.
Yet the truth was revealed when I was on the Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee. We were interviewing Rhona Fairhead, the Chair of the BBC Board who had given in to the Chancellor’s demands. She admitted that she had been to see the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, privately and without civil servants present.
Soon after, the BBC Board agreed to take on the over-75’s licence fee. And soon after that, Ms Fairhead resigned and became … Baroness Fairhead. She was appointed to the House of Lords and herself became a government minister. Maybe that’s why the BBC Board did not fight the proposal.
It stinks. The BBC is lumbered with a cost of £745 million which is the combined cost of BBC 2 and BBC4, Radio 5 Live and the News Channel. There was no way the BBC could take that hit.
We are well used to this tactic by the government, because they’ve done it with local councils, the police and the fire services: cut the budgets, and when the service is reduced, blame the body whose money they cut for failing to deliver the service. It was dishonest and wrong, it hits our pensioners hard, and the government must reverse this cruel cut.