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The public tells Government to keep its manifesto promise and continue to fund free TV licences for our over 75s

By: Age UK
Published on 05 July 2019 01:00 AM

New research for the charity Age UK shows there is a big groundswell of public support for the continuation of free TV licences for the over 75s, with three quarters of all those polled believing that the Government should continue to pay for them – equivalent to an estimated 37.5 million adults of all ages across Great Britain.

  • 4 in 5 (83%) of all ages surveyed say the Conservative Party should keep its manifesto promise to fund free licences until 2022.
  • 3 in 4 (74%) of all ages surveyed agree the Government should continue to pay for all over 75s to have a free licence.

The strength of feeling was strikingly consistent across the age spectrum, with 7 in every 10 of those aged between 18–64 agreeing that the funding responsibility should sit with the Government – rising to 4 in 5 (82%) among over 65s and 9 in 10 (92%) among those immediately affected, the over 75s.

Even greater numbers, over four fifths of the public – equivalent to over 42 million people – think the Conservative Party should keep its manifesto pledge to fund free TV licences until 2022. This despite the Government handing over responsibility to the BBC without the money to fund it, or indeed any public consultation. Again the majority of every age group polled was in agreement, with 7 in 10 (71%) of the youngest age group (18-24 years) saying the manifesto promise should be honoured, rising steadily through the age bands and becoming near universal (98%) among the over 75s.

Age UK has been inundated with support for its Switched Off campaign since the BBC made its announcement to means test TV licences for the over 75s a few weeks ago. Its online petition has now almost reached the 600,000 mark and the charity has been flooded with calls and emails from people across the country who are worried about losing their free TV licence, or concerned for others who may be affected.

The charity is warning that it will be the most vulnerable older people who will bear the brunt of the decision to scrap free TV licences: the 2.2 million over 75s with a limiting long-standing illness which means in many cases they are largely confined to home, and the 2 million over 75s who live alone and who may struggle to bear the extra cost of a TV licence on a single fixed income. Yet another bill on top of the other challenges and health costs that many vulnerable over 75s are facing will be a bitter pill to swallow and a potential disaster for all those who will simply be unable to pay. The BBC's plan to protect a minority through a means-test just won't work – too many of the very poorest don't claim the means-tested benefits they are due.

Since its introduction in 2000, the free TV licence has been a highly valued, universal entitlement for the over 75s which has helped millions to sustain their quality of life into late old age. Research for the charity shows that television is the main form of company for 2 in every 5 (38%) people aged 75+ and 9 out of 10 in this age group watch TV every day. Countless older people have told the charity just how important their TV is to them, using phrases such as "lifeline", "my link to the outside world", "not just a pastime but a necessity...my life support machine".

This strong and consistent support for the continuation of free TV licences for the over 75s, and disapproval of the Conservative Government for reneging on its manifesto pledge to keep them, are reflected not only in these new polling findings but also in the letters, emails and phone calls Age UK has received in recent weeks, from every part of the country and from people of all ages. For example:

Elsie, aged 25: "I think it's outrageous that older people will have their free TV licence taken away from them. My grandfather recently suffered from a heart attack and is now at home recovering. Prior to falling ill, he was incredibly active but is now adjusting to the fact he is less able to get up and go out. For him, the television is a lifeline and I would hate to think that now this could be taken away from him. I think it's shameful that this Government is turning their back on older people."

Emily, aged 33: "Since my grandfather died and my grandmother was diagnosed with dementia the TV has become her source of company  it is like a friend in the room. I think it would really concern her to have to pay the fee and I don't think she could pay it."

Sara, aged 25: "For some older people the television is their lifeline – why take this away from vulnerable older people?"

David, a GP: "As a practising GP of many years I am very aware of just how reliant many of my older patients are on their TV. For some it is their only contact with the outside world. Reintroducing this charge is likely to do untold harm."

Stanley, aged 96: "I gave 5 years of my life in WW2 to save this country from being invaded. I am just asking for a little bit back in return. Also for you to honour the 2017 Conservative agreement to fund free TV licence until 2022."

Joe, aged 82: "Being a widower and on a single person's pension I find it hard to manage and am unable to travel far. Often the voice from the TV is the only one I hear."

Barbara, aged 92: "The TV is my link to the outside world. I watch the news and the nature programmes."

Ruth, aged 87: "TV allows us to relax. My husband is disabled and housebound and it keeps him mentally alert.

Brian, aged 94: "I am a 94-year-old widower and cannot leave my home. I rely on the TV for company and entertainment. Due to my circumstances I would not be able to afford a TV licence."

Jane, aged 74: "It's eat or not eat if you bring back having to pay for a TV licence."

John, aged 76: "I live on my own, am disabled and on a tight budget. I will be really lonely and depressed if I have to pay."

These are just some of the reasons why Age UK is calling on the Government to do the right thing and honour its 2017 election manifesto pledge to keep free TV licences for the over 75s. The cost of the entitlement accounts for less than 0.1% of public spending yet the benefit to the over 75s is immeasurable.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK said: "It's fantastic to see such solid support for maintaining free TV licences for our over 75s. If you look at these findings what jumps out is how strong and consistent public opinion is on this issue, right across Great Britain – among men and women of all ages, all political persuasions, all levels of income, and in every region and country.

"There was even stronger agreement that the Conservative Government should stand by its manifesto commitment to keep funding TV licences for our oldest people until at least 2022. Some pundits say that election manifestos are no more than 'wish lists', but the public clearly disagrees. A promise is a promise and this research shows that if a party ignores a manifesto pledge it risks electoral consequences – especially on an emotive issue like free TV licences for the over 75s which raises questions of fairness towards older people, as well as undermining public trust in politicians.

"It is no good the Government saying that it's up to the BBC to fund the free TV licence for over-75s now: these new findings show that if they stick to this position it is they who will ultimately be held responsible by the public for letting millions of older people down.

"Above all our research shows that the next Prime Minister will find himself on the wrong side of public opinion, unless he agrees to abide by the manifesto commitment his party made to keep funding TV licences for the over 75s. And while people of all ages were strongly in favour of sustaining free licences, our incoming leader should note that at 98% the level of support for this among the over 75s is near universal, and these are people who study after study says are strongly motivated to vote.

"There is still time for Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson to say that they will keep the promise their party made to the public about continuing to fund TV licences free for the over 75s, and it is beyond any doubt now that the vast majority of the public will thank them if and when they do."

-- Ends --

Notes to editors

For more information

Contact the Age UK Media team on 020 3033 1430 (out of hours: 07071 243 243).

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Last updated: Sep 24 2019

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