Decision to axe free TV devastating for well over a million over 75s largely confined to their homes
By: Age UK
Published on 21 June 2019 12:00 AM
Half of all over-75s – 2.2 million – have a limiting long-standing illness which means in many cases they are largely confined to home, making TV their precious window on the world and constant companion, according to the Charity Age UK as it continues to campaign for the continuation of free TV licences for the over-75s.
New figures show that 1.3 million over-75s (29 per cent) have difficulty with at least one daily activity such as dressing, bathing or showering, or getting in and out of bed. Of that number, 700,000 (15 per cent of over-75s) have difficulty with at least two daily activities and 390,000 (9 per cent) have difficult with at least three. An additional 23,000 over-75s are bedbound.
The Charity is warning that these are the older people who will be among the hardest hit by the BBC's decision to scrap free TV licences for all over-75s. A big extra bill on top of the other challenges and health costs that many in this group are facing will be a bitter blow and a source of huge anxiety and some will be unable to engage with any new system.
Since its introduction in 2000, the free 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 two in every five (38 per cent) people aged 75+ and nine out of 10 in this age group watch TV every day. It is particularly important for many of the 2 million over-75s who live alone – many of whom may struggle to bear the additional cost of a TV licence on a single income – and the 1.5 million over-75s who are sometimes or often lonely.
Following the launch of the Government's new loneliness campaign, Let's Talk Loneliness , on Monday, the Charity's analysis is a stark reminder of the high numbers of vulnerable and lonely over-75s for whom free TV access provides not just companionship but indispensable and, for some, almost their only link to the outside world.
That's why Age UK is calling on all the Conservative leadership candidates to commit to honouring the party's manifesto pledge to keep free TV licences for the over-75s. It argues that whilst the cost of the entitlement accounts for less than 0.1% of public spending , the benefit to the over-75s is immeasurable.
Over the past few weeks and months, Age UK has received tens of thousands of responses from people across the country who are worried about losing their free TV licence, or concerned for others who may be affected. Their words are a powerful reminder that, for many people, TV is so much more than just 'background noise':
"In my advancing years I have to spend longer hours at home, so watching TV is not just a pastime but a necessity. TV is my life support machine!"
"I am an OAP with a very meagre pension and TV is the only source of entertainment that I have. The free TV licence has helped immensely over the past few years."
"This is the first year I have received a free TV licence, it is greatly appreciated. I don't have my hand out with a begging bowl and never have. My income is only a tiny bit above receiving any help, so I pay for everything with a struggle at times. This TV licence is a welcome help."
"My husband is 85, I am 80. We rely on our TV for our main contact with the outside world. We both have chronic, limiting health problems."
The Charity is extremely concerned about the BBC's plan to link free TV licences to Pension Credit, a state benefit for the poorest pensioners, as many are missing out on the benefit or are just over the limit so would lose their free licence and would struggle to afford to buy one. Over 40 per cent of those entitled to Pension Credit aren't receiving it, often because they don't know they are eligible, find the claiming process too complicated or intrusive, or feel embarrassed about needing help. But even those who are in receipt of Pension Credit may be reluctant to tell an 'outside body', the BBC, and some will undoubtedly struggle to 'self-validate' that they are in receipt of Pension Credit because they are living with some loss of cognitive function or chronic illness.
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK said: "If you go into the home of an older person who is coping with serious health problems and care needs, nine times out of ten their TV has pride of place. For this significant group of over-75s getting out and about is hard or impossible and many live alone and spend most or all of the day on their own. In these circumstances the TV plays an incredibly important role – informer, entertainer and friend. This is what many thousands of older people have contacted Age UK to say – it is clear that the TV means a lot more to greater numbers of older people than the Government or the BBC have understood.
"In this of all weeks, 'Loneliness Awareness week', we are calling on our policymakers, the candidates for the leadership of the Conservative Party above all, to try to understand what it is like to be of an advanced age, in fragile or declining health, confined largely to your own home or even to one room or your bed, and dependent on your TV for stimulation and comfort. This is the reality for hundreds of thousands and I don't think it is unreasonable for the State to pay so that they can at least watch the TV for free, without the hassle and expense of buying a licence or having to self-validate their entitlement to Pension Credit to get a free licence.
"For less than 0.1% of total public spending the new Prime Minister, whoever they may be, can end this madness at the stroke of a pen. We call on him to commit to continuing to fund free TV licences for all over-75s until 2022 when the issue can be looked at in the round as part of the next BBC funding settlement, or earlier as part of a comprehensive spending review if we get one before then."