The Liberal Democrats are to debate a new policy proposal that would see the BBC licence fee set independently at their Autumn conference. The proposal is touted as a direct response to government cuts that have forced the BBC to end free TV licenses for most over 75s.
The BBC says that its decision to to cut free TV licences for most over-75s stems from a government decision to pass responsibility for the cost of these to the BBC as part of the licence fee agreement, as well as the decision to limit license fee rises in recent years. From the 1st of August this year, over 3 million extra households have been liable for the £157.50 fee.
A government spokesperson said that the BBC's choice to end free TV licences for over-75s was "the wrong decision".
Lib Dem Culture spokesperson Daisy Cooper, who will move the motion at the Party’s first digital conference, said the Government must never again be allowed to “force the BBC into a corner where it has to choose between cuts to programming or raising these fees on the most vulnerable.”
The party called on the government to uphold its promise to retain the licence fee model until the end of the current Charter period in December 2027, and for a transparent and independent body to review the cost of the licence next year.
The Lib Dems will also take a swipe at Boris Johnson for ducking BBC scrutiny during last year’s General Election. As part of the same motion, they will call on all senior politicians to make themselves available for scrutiny in televised interviews and debates.
Speaking ahead of the debate, Lib Dem Digital, Culture, Media and Sport spokesperson Daisy Cooper said:
Families around the UK have flocked to the BBC during the coronavirus pandemic as a source of trusted news, entertainment and education, demonstrating the true value of public service broadcasting at a time of national crisis.
As families face serious financial hardship and the prospect of local lockdowns, it is absurd that the BBC is left with no choice but to cut jobs and programmes that will reduce people’s ability to know what’s going on in their area.
Ending free TV licences for the over 75s, which could push some of the poorest pensioners into poverty, jars with common decency.
We must be clear: the responsibility of these cuts falls squarely at the feet of Conservative Ministers. With these plans, it is no wonder we can find neither hide nor hair of Boris Johnson when proper media scrutiny comes calling.
After the BBC announced that the temporary leave of absence for over-75 TV licence fees would end in the 1st of this month, Labour peer Dame Joan Bakewell said that:
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The rich old have lots of savings and investments, and they can well afford it," she told BBC Radio 5 Live.
Not enough will get it free. There are layers of people above the earning [level] that gets you the benefit who also should be allowed to have a free licence fee... It's the suffering middle who perhaps find life expensive but are not reduced to needing state benefits.