No matter how old we get, we all feel the pangs of loneliness, with human contact being one of the most rewarding aspects of life for many.
As age sets in, many older people find themselves struggling to make the sort of personal connections they once took for granted; a friendly natter at the local shop, the easy banter of the workplace.
Ill health, bereavement and numerous other difficulties can leave older people susceptible to the experience of profound loneliness, with many feeling cut off from the world completely.
In an ideal world, the British government should be responsible for alleviating this alienation as much as humanly possible, allowing older people to enjoy a dignified and relaxed retirement.
Unfortunately, our society is far from perfectly equipped when it comes to caring for an ageing population, with savage cuts to the NHS and other vital services leaving older people particularly vulnerable.
Elderly citizens have now been dealt another cruel blow, with free TV licences being cut for up to 3.7 million pensioners under new licence rules. The annual cost for a colour TV licence is £154.50, with over 75s remaining fully covered until May 31, 2021.
After this date, only low-income households where one person receives pension credit benefit will be eligible for a free licence.
As reported by BBC News, free licences were introduced for the over-75s in 2000 as part of a Labour government initiative to tackle pensioner poverty.
Fifteen years later, the Conservative Party chopped this government funding, forcing the BBC to wonder over whether or not it could afford to take on the bill without suffering ‘unprecedented closures’.
This new ‘balanced’ approach has been described as a ‘compromise’. The BBC will foot one third of the cost, while two thirds of the funding covered by ‘wealthier’ pensioners.
However, this announcement has sparked fierce and understandable criticism, with #boycottBBC trending on Twitter and further backlash against Tory austerity.
So let's see if I've got this right:
A Labour government introduces free TV licenses for the over-75s, paid for by the government.
The Tories decide to stop funding the free TV licenses.
People blame the BBC and #boycottBBC trends on Twitter.
— Adrian Bott (@Cavalorn) June 11, 2019
Imagine making over 75s, (most of whom are living on an embarrassingly low pension) pay for their tv license fee. The one thing that connects them to the world when they can’t get out and about as they once used to is television. It’s an absolute disgrace. #tvlicense #bbc
— Andy Barton (@andybarton88) June 11, 2019
UNILAD spoke with Sheila, an 82-year-old grandmother who has been left infuriated by this decision. Although she wouldn’t have wanted to see the BBC lose any of its channels, she is ‘really annoyed’ with the government for having put this ‘very difficult decision’ to the BBC.
Sheila told UNILAD:
I think a lot of very poor pensioners might say, ‘well, I’m not going to watch the telly’.
For many older people, their television sets provide a vital thread to the outside world, allowing them to keep up with the news and current affairs.
Speaking with UNILAD, Sheila emphasised how much TV can serve as a ‘real lifeline’ for many older people:
I don’t agree with it because the TV is a real lifeline for so many pensioners, especially those who are living on their own.
Many of them just turn it on to hear a human voice, that they’ve not heard for ages. And, suddenly, when you’ve been budgeting perhaps ten, fifteen years on your pension it’s a big shock.
According to reports from Age UK, 3.6 million older people in the UK live alone, with 2 million of these aged 75 or above.
Devastatingly, 1.9 million older people report often feeling ‘ignored or invisible’, with 1.4 million older people said to be chronically lonely.
Referring to the loneliness suffered by older people, Sheila described the issue as being ‘quite prevalent’, especially within countryside communities such as her own:
There’s no bus on a Sunday, and you can’t go and see relatives and friends if you’ve got no transport.
And it’s the older people who don’t have transport. And that is going to be more expensive obviously if you’ve got your TV license to pay.
Sheila doesn’t hold out much hope in the government to tackle the issue of loneliness amongst older people, remarking:
The government has been such a mess, I don’t think it’s got any plans at all.
On days when their aches and pains stop them from heading out to socialise, TV has long remained a comforting source of entertainment for many pensioners, as well as providing new topics to chat about with friends.
82-year-old Maureen, also from County Durham, spoke with UNILAD about the importance of TV to stimulate new conversations with friends, noting:
That’s a lot of what we talk about. When we meet we’ll say, ‘did you see telly last night?’ and ‘did you see the news on telly this morning?’ It’s not only watching it, it gives you things to talk about as well.
Maureen stressed how many pensioners can spend entire weekends alone in their homes due to inadequate public transport:
It’s the transport, the transport is dreadful, really. I’m fortunate I still drive, but if you don’t, you can’t go out from Saturday until Monday.
Everywhere you go, you’ve got to think about getting back home again in the evenings because the buses stop, I think, at six.
Maureen noted how free licences gave over 75s ‘one less thing to worry about’, and hopes the Conservative party will lose support from older people, stating, ‘They shouldn’t have given it back to the BBC to decide’.
If the BBC thought that getting our University license fee was tough then wait until they meet my nana… pic.twitter.com/Aj4vlX0Aaa
— Arnold Bennett (@arniebennett) June 10, 2019
After a life spent working and saving, ordinary people in the UK should be able to look forward to a restful retirement, where they don’t have to worry about scraping together enough money for the most basic of necessities.
This new decision will undoubtedly further pressure on older people, who are already struggling to stretch their pensions to cover the rising costs of living.
Caroline Abrahams, Age UK’s Charity Director, has given the following statement to UNILAD:
Make no mistake, if this scheme goes ahead we are going to see sick and disabled people in their eighties and nineties who are completely dependent on their cherished TV for companionship and news, forced to give it up.
Means-testing may sound fair but in reality it means at least 650,000 of our poorest pensioners facing a big new annual bill they simply can’t afford, because though eligible for Pension Credit they don’t actually get it.
As a former employee of the BBC I think it’s awful that a free #tvlicense for over 75’s will be overturned!
*give back to those who’ve worked all their lives, some of whom have the TV as their only friend
*increase the license fee for everyone else and spread the cost
— 🤚🏼 Ryan Hand 🖐🏼 (@RyanHand_) June 11, 2019
However, despite widespread frustration at the BBC, the fault of this decision lies firmly at the door of 10 Downing Street.
With a new prime minister due to take the reins, Age UK hope Conservative politicians will consider funding the entitlement until 2022.
The BBC’s decision will cause those affected enormous anxiety and distress, and some anger too, but in the end this is the Government’s fault, not the BBC’s, and it is open to a new Prime Minister to intervene and save the day for some of the most vulnerable older people in our society who will otherwise suffer a big blow to their pockets and to their quality of life.
The decent thing for the Government to do is to continue to fund the entitlement until the BBC’s overall funding deal comes up for negotiation in 2022. This would be warmly welcomed by our older population as a much fairer way to proceed.
As reported by the Office for National Statistics, living costs for the poorest tenth of British households Britain rose by 2.7 per cent per year on average between 2006 and 2018, with an increase of 2.3 each year for the wealthiest tenth.
Taking into account all UK households, living costs increased by average of about 2.4 per year over the same time period. Barbara, 79, believes pension increases have failed to keep up with these rising costs.
Barbara told UNILAD about the pressures this additional cost would place upon pensioners who are already counting the pennies:
Everything is going up. Our costs are going up, and yet the pensions never keep pace with that really. And when you get to 80, you get an extra 25p and they drop on you ‘you’ve got to save – is it £150? – to pay for your licence.
Electricity, everything has gone up. And then they drop a bombshell like that, when you’re 75. The people at the top of the BBC earn £1.5 million, for very little presenting work. I won’t mention any names, but they are there.
If they could reduce their salaries first, and if they still need more money then attack the pensioners. But not the pensioners first.
Making the BBC responsible for license fee subsidy for over 75s was just part of this whittling down of a public service, part of a concerted, sustained attack on public life generally, and the BBC specifically.
— Dudley Cruse (@dudleycruse) June 10, 2019
Maureen agrees with Barbara that certain presenters at the BBC are paid far too much, describing the salaries at the higher end of the scale as being ‘obscene’:
If there’s a news item happening somewhere else in the country, or even abroad, they send reporters out and I’m sure that costs a great deal of money.
And sometimes they just stand outside the gates of somewhere that’s on the news. Why do that?
A list of BBC presenter salaries as published in July 2018 listed Gary Lineker, Chris Evans and Graham Norton as their highest paid presenters, earning £1,750,000-£1,759,999, £1,660,000-£1,669,999 and £600,000-£609,999 respectively.
Although those on extremely low incomes will be spared the loss of this perk, plenty of pensioners considered to be above this threshold will still feel the pinch.
Barbara believes these new laws will ‘affect a lot of people’, telling UNILAD:
I’m fortunate, I probably could still afford it, but it’s something I’ve got to think about. I’m fortunate in that I still run a car, but the cost is tax and insurance, petrol. Everything. So it’s got to end somewhere.
We don’t earn anything. We don’t go out to work at our age. So we’re living on our savings, and what the government want us to do is, presumably, is use those savings to live.
Not a luxurious life, but to live, until we can get pension credit. Dental treatment, spectacles, everything. Once we’ve used our savings.
We don’t know how long we’re going to live, and what expense we’re going to incur in that time. And the licence is just one more thing, one more burden to bear.
Sophie Andrews, CEO of The Silver Line – a confidential listening service for older people – told UNILAD:
For many older people, TV provides a vital source of stimulation and connection to the world. Many of our callers are extremely worried that they might lose their free TV license and we hope the Government consider the huge impact this would have on older people, many of whom are already experiencing loneliness and isolation.
We know that some people who don’t currently receive pension credits would still struggle with the additional cost of a TV license, while many who are eligible for pension credits have not claimed this benefit. Between the Government and the BBC this needs to be resolved and we urge them to consider the wider implications for the wellbeing of older people.
Hi Tim, bbc license fee. My mum narrowly gets too much to claim pension credit but her annual state pension (she has no other income), is approx. £12,400. A tv licence, at the full rate is a huge outlay. At 78, she needs a tv to stay connected to the world. 1/2
— Phil O'Rourke #FBPE (@ExCllrPhilOCS) June 10, 2019
It’s all too easy for younger people to forget how old age will come to us all if we’re lucky. And we need to consider what sort of world we want to retire in, where our mental health and well-being is respected.
It remains to be seen whether the incoming prime minister will address the concerns raised by Age UK, and many elderly citizens across the UK. But I sincerely hope they do.
With an ageing population and a loneliness epidemic which spans generations, listening to the concerns of older people will be crucial when working towards a happier, healthier and more connected Britain.
Towards the end of 2018, Age UK launched Switched Off: a save free TV licences for older people campaign to ask the Government to take back responsibility for the funding and administration of the free TV licences policy.
At the time of writing, Age UK’s petition urging the Government to reverse this decision has received more than 130,000 signatures. You can find out more for yourself here.
Any older person who is worried about money and/ or losing their free TV licence can call Age UK Advice free of charge on 0800 169 6565, visit www.ageuk.org.uk or contact their local Age UK for further information and advice.
If you have a story you want to tell send it to UNILAD via [email protected]
Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.