Belfast Telegraph

Fionola Meredith: Older people are not victims ... they should fork out for a TV licence like the rest of us

If anyone needs support from society, it's younger people, not the affluent old, says Fionola Meredith

The BBC's decision to limit free licence fees for over-75s has provoked a storm of outrage
The BBC's decision to limit free licence fees for over-75s has provoked a storm of outrage

Hear that loud squeaky sound? It's thousands of pensioners gnashing their teeth - falsies or otherwise - because the BBC has decided to limit free TV licences for the over-75s, in order to save £500m and avoid the closure of several channels.

The news was greeted with enormous anguish, anger and outrage.

Piers Morgan stormed and ranted about the "total cowardice" of the BBC.

Presenter Ben Fogle said he would donate a year's salary from Animal Park to help the old people pay.

There was even highly emotive talk of denying veteran war heroes their natural rights. What, to watch Strictly Come Dancing?

Honestly, you'd think that the "heartless" BBC had recommended involuntary euthanasia, not required over-75s to cough up a small sum - less than £3 a week - in order to access the Antiques Roadshow or Bargain Hunt.

Nobody likes paying extra bills, but OAPs are not facing a "devastating future", as has been histrionically reported this week. Many are doing just fine and dandy.

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One in five people aged 65 and over has a total household wealth of over £1m. These people aren't poor old victims, crouching emaciated over a one-bar electric fire. Why shouldn't they extract a tiny fragment of gold from their enormous pile of dosh?

Simply being elderly isn't an automatic reason to expect State largesse.

Pensioner poverty remains a serious concern, of course. It's distressing to hear of vulnerable older people having to choose between paying for heating and paying for food. And the television can be a real lifeline: a source of company, comfort, entertainment, information.

But lavishly awarding free TV licences to everyone over 75 won't solve the problem of pensioner impoverishment. Neither will reducing the - revoltingly gargantuan, I admit - pay of top BBC presenters like Gary Lineker.

It's simplistic to say that the BBC should just lop a few quid off Lineker's pay-packet and slip it into the pockets of pensioners so that they don't have to buy a licence.

Poll: Should TV licences be means tested for the over 75s?

Posted by Belfast Telegraph on Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The smug football merchant and crisps salesman is paid far too much, granted. But Lineker's bloated salary shouldn't stop the affluent elderly from forking out their £3 a week.

Remember, the very poorest older people, those on pension credits, won't have to pay the licence fee at all. They will remain exempt from the charge and the BBC will continue to subsidise their viewing, and rightly so.

What of the hundreds of thousands of slightly better-off pensioners who don't claim the pension credit to which they are entitled? Well, instead of complaining, now is the time to get claiming.

We live in an emotionally-charged age, where different identity groups continually compete in the race for victimhood, battling it out to see who can win the title of "most oppressed people ever".

The lobby for older people's rights is a vociferous one, and campaigners do raise vital issues about the health and care of the elderly. But simply being a person of advanced years does not, as of right, confer victimhood upon you.

Indeed, in April of this year, a House of Lords committee recommended that free TV licences, bus passes and winter fuel payments for pensioners should be scrapped in order to address the imbalance between young and old people, and to "deliver a fairer society" which retains "the supportive relationship between generations".

The Committee on Intergenerational Fairness - made up of Labour, Tory, Liberal Democrat and cross-bench peers - said that the balance needs to tip in favour of young people, who need more support in the housing and employment markets.

Speaking at the time of its launch, committee chairman Lord True said: "We are calling for some of the outdated benefits based purely on age to be removed. Policies such as the State pension triple lock and free TV licences for over-75s were justified when pensioner households were at the bottom of the income scale, but that is no longer the case."

Surprisingly, the report found that pensioner households are now actually better off than many working age households, both in terms of income after housing costs and overall household wealth.

It said that: "A decade ago the agenda would have been dominated by pensioner poverty, but due to the introduction of pension credit this changed so that poverty now 'wears a younger face'."

Let's deal in facts, not emotion. Older people are viewing more TV than anyone else: the average age of the BBC television audience is 62-plus. Most of them can afford the licence fee.

So why shouldn't they pay for the privilege, just like the rest of us?

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