The following appeared as my column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 1st March:
Loneliness is something I’ve spoken about many times.
It’s a blight on our society, where people of all ages are socially isolated and left to feel alone.
But many more could be affected if it wasn’t for something lots of us take for granted: our TVs.
It’s a form of entertainment and relaxation after a day at work for many of us, but for elderly people around Barnsley it’s a vital source of company.
In fact, the Campaign to End Loneliness recently found that 40 per cent of older people say that TV is their main source of company.
That’s why I was shocked to hear the free TV licences for over 75’s that many of them depend on are under threat from this Government.
Despite a manifesto pledge to protect them until 2022, the Government has devolved the responsibility – and cost – of the licences to the BBC.
This means it’s up to the BBC to decide whether the free licences are maintained.
There are a range of options for the BBC, including footing the bill themselves, scrapping the licences, raising the eligibility age to 80, or means testing it.
To fund the licences themselves would cost the equivalent of BBC 2, BBC 3, BBC 4, BBC News Channel, CBBC and CBeebies combined – covering the cost would almost certainly have an impact on the quality of service they provide.
An alternative is to scrap free licences altogether, but this would have a devastating impact on many people in Barnsley.
Age UK have estimated that in this case, over 2 million over-75s would have to go without their TV or cut back on other essentials.
This could affect over 11,000 pensioners in Barnsley alone, many of whom could be faced with the choice of company from their TV, or paying for food and heating.
The free TV licences scheme introduced by the last Labour Government is a social policy, and the Government’s decision to outsource it along with the costs could have appalling consequences, possibly making many vulnerable people experience loneliness.
They should step in immediately and save the TV licences people here in Barnsley depend on.