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Executive Leader Cllr Brenda Warrington

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Councillor Brenda Warrington, Executive Leader of Tameside Council

Protecting Our Pensioners

Thursday, 20 June 2019

Cast your mind back to 2015. In one of their first acts after their victory in the General Election that year, the David Cameron government announced that they would no longer pay for TV licenses for over-75s, transferring responsibility for funding over the BBC. At the height of the age of austerity it was effectively a £745 million cut to our national broadcaster, with no negotiation or consultation with the BBC itself or the public in general.

Four years later, the cut has become largely forgotten until last week, when the BBC announced that the financial pressure to fund universal free TV license for over-75s had become unsustainable. Barring some kind of U-turn or alternative solution, from June next year millions of households will have to start paying £154.50 a year to watch television and access the BBC iPlayer.

The announcement has been met with shock and outrage, a shock and outrage that I share and entirely agree with. We know that older people tend to be heaviest users of television, and many simply do not have £150 a year to spare at a time when pensioner poverty is on the rise once more. I intend to raise the issue both as Leader of Tameside Council and the Lead for Age-Friendly Greater Manchester and Equalities.

But unlike many, I don’t hold the BBC entirely responsible. Anybody familiar with the near-decade of austerity imposed upon the public sector will remember that one of the government’s favourite ways of imposing cuts was to transfer responsibility, but not the funding, for providing services. These stealth cuts allowed the government to avoid responsibility for some of their most damaging acts of austerity. To make the blow doubly bitter, the cut to TV licenses directly contradicts the government’s own election manifesto, which stated that they would “maintain” pensioner benefits, “including free bus passes, eye tests, prescriptions and TV licences, for the duration of this parliament”. If they were truly sorry for going against their own promises and imposing extra costs on pensioners, they would have put their hand in their pockets to pay for the licenses themselves instead to trying to pass the buck on to the BBC.

The one piece of small print that’s cushioned the blow is that over-75s in receipt of pension credit will continue to receive their TV licenses for free. That, coincidentally, brings me to another bit of news that I found concerning this week. We know that for a variety of reasons many people do not claim all of the money that they are entitled to, and nowhere is this truer than with pensioner benefits. It’s estimated that up to half of all households with pensioners aren’t claiming anything at all, with a further two in ten claiming less than they are able to. This includes Guarantee Credit, which tops up pensioner’s incomes that fall below £163 a week or £248.80 a week for a couple, and Savings Credit, which provides extra money for those who have already saved money for their retirement. While figures for Tameside specifically are not available, it’s estimated that the average unclaimed pension benefit nationally could be as high as £1,058 per person.

Sums like that can be the difference between pensioners living in comfort and struggling, especially if free TV licenses become tied to the receipt of pension credit as well. If you think you’re missing out on pension credit, you can find out more on the w
ebsite here or phone 0800 99 1234 to begin the claiming process.

In the longer term, I would like to see the government actively making sure that our elderly residents get the financial support they need and are entitled to. Every time they choose to let our pensioners navigate an extraordinarily complex benefits system by themselves, or choose to sneak out swinging cuts to what they receive, they choose austerity over protecting some of the most vulnerable in our society. This is no way to treat our elderly, and it’s absolutely no way to run a country.

Posted by: Executive Leader

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