The UK's over 75s may soon lose their entitlement to a free TV licence, a move that the charity Age UK believes could leave 50,000 pensioners struggling to make ends meet1.
Since 1999, households including someone aged 75 or over have been eligible for a TV licence concession worth £105.50 a year. But, since the government announced that it will no longer fund the annual £745 million bill from 2020, the benefit is under threat.
According to Age UK, passing the cost back to over 75s could mean many have to choose between television and relative poverty, defined as a household income that's 60 per cent of the current average2.
When so many rely financially on initiatives like this, those in the public sector cannot afford to be blindsided by changes to policy. How can public sector leaders ensure they are aware of the factors and potential ramifications of such decisions?
What's the possible impact of scrapping free TV licences?
The government stated its intention to stop funding free TV licences in 2015, despite previously indicating that it would protect the benefit in manifestos in 2010, 2015 and 2017. The decision was part of a raft of measures designed to help the government save £12 billion on the welfare budget3 – which was £264 billion in the financial year ending 20174.
Welfare cuts are certainly nothing new, but some see the withdrawal of free TV licences as a potential tipping point for many older people. As Age UK point out, the rising state pension age has impacted the finances of the UK's older generation since 2010 and now, new rules mean pension credit and housing benefits are only available to couples in which both partners are over state pension age5.
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Changes like these can have a cumulative effect, especially in the context of an unreliable national economy and uncertainty surrounding the UK's position in Europe. Yet, for those who aren't able to participate in society the way they once did, television acts as a form of company and an important link to the wider world.
"It's the most vulnerable people in our society who'll suffer. [...] There are still significant numbers of older people living on very low incomes who would genuinely struggle to pay the licence fee if required to do so," says Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK6.
How can public-sector leaders ensure they are ready to help?
The discontinuation of free TV licences demonstrates the unpredictability of government spending, but it is up to those in local administration to stay up-to-date with policy changes as best they can. Where cuts can create hardship among the most vulnerable in society, public-sector leaders must pre-empt the impact and be prepared to support those who find themselves in need. No one solution will fit all but, in this case, ensuring older people access the £3.8bn in other unclaimed benefits that they are entitled to could help many manage financially5.
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1WATERSON, J. (2019) Loss of Free TV Licence Could Push Over-75s into Poverty – Charity [online] Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/media/2019/jan/12/loss-free-bbc-tv-licence-could-push-over-75s-into-poverty-age-uk-warns> [Accessed 23.04.2019]
2WESTWATER, H. (2019) What is Relative Poverty? [online] Available at: <https://www.bigissue.com/latest/what-is-relative-poverty> [Accessed 23.04.2019]
3KEEN, R. (2016) Welfare Spending: What's in £218.3 Billion? [online] Available at: <https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/insights/welfare-spending-whats-in-218-3-billion> [Accessed 23.04.2019]
4OFFICE FOR NATIONAL STATISTICS. (2016) How is the Welfare Budget Spent? [online] Available at: <https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/governmentpublicsectorandtaxes/publicsectorfinance/articles/
howisthewelfarebudgetspent/2016-03-16> [Accessed 23.04.2019]
5AGE UK. (2019) Nearly a Million Older People Just One Big Bill Away From Financial Disaster as New Report Shows Reality of Trying to Meet the Extra Costs of Ageing on a Low Income [online] Available at: <https://www.ageuk.org.uk/latest-press/articles/2019/april2/nearly-a-million-older-people-just-one-big-bill-away-from-financial-disaster-as-new-report-shows-reality-of-trying-to-meet-the-extra-costs-of-ageing-on-a-low-income> [Accessed 24.04.2019]
6AGE UK. (2018) Why Free TV Licences for the Over 75s Matter [online] Available at: <https://www.ageuk.org.uk/discover/2018/why-free-tv-licences-for-the-over-75s-matter> [Accessed 24.04.2019]