For many people, the BBC is more than just a broadcaster. It is a companion, a (good) teacher, an alarm clock, a sleep aid, an entertainer and a provocateur. It is not just a news source but the soundtrack to our lives. Like it or loathe it, one thing’s for sure – you feel a certain way about it, that’s as British as talking about the weather.
And so, the announcement that millions of pensioners will have to pay £154.50 for a TV licence from next year because the corporation plans to start means testing it has got tongues wagging.
BBC bosses have confirmed the move, with Director General Lord Hall saying the decision to cut the funding free TV licences for the over-75s – to the tune of £745 million a year – stemmed from Conservative austerity. Former Culture Minister Ed Vaizey seemed to agree, saying we shouldn’t forget it was the Treasury under George Osborne that decided the BBC would have to shoulder the cost to meet welfare targets.
Other politicians have also condemned the move. Theresa May is said to be “very disappointed” by the decision while Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, has accused the Government of “breathtaking gall” in trying to “blame the BBC for this mess”.
Why should MPs get free TV licences but not the over-75s?
However, whatever happens next, there is one group who will continue to be able to access free TV licences in the future: politicians. MPs work hard, often unsociable hours and they can claim a free TV licence for their constituency offices as an expense.
Figures published by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) and obtained by i show that so far, in the expenses year 2018-2019 up until January (reporting is not yet complete for February and March), 154 MPs have made such a claim.
This includes Conservatives such as the former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Esther McVey, who has overseen the rollout of Universal Credit, Michael Fabricant, Kevin Hollinrake, who founded the estate agency chain Hunters, Sir Roger Gale and Anna Soubry. Labour’s Hillary Benn, Karl Turner, Lisa Nandy, Kate Osamor and Yasmin Qureshi are also amongst those making the claim.
An incredible resource
The BBC says cutting free licenses for older people will save them somewhere in the region of £500m. I don’t question for a moment whether paying £154.50 a year for a TV licence is good value or that, now, more than ever, we need the quality rolling Brexit coverage of Laura Kuenssberg as well as the dark relief of truly innovative shows like Killing Eve.
And, no matter how connected the world becomes, BBC World Service will always be an incredible resource. We need more of this, not less and, for that, the BBC has to be able to compete with the likes of Netflix who are currently able to outspend it hand over fist. Something has to give.
Conservative leadership contender Jeremy Hunt has defended MPs ability to make these claims as a “legitimate expense”, but MPs earn around £80,000 a year which is far above the national average of £29,009. So is it fair that politicians can collect work perks when schools and care homeshave to pay?