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Unite Retired and Community members in fight to save free TV licences for over 75s

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Unite’s retired members, together with Unite Community, are fighting to save free TV licences for over 75s after the government suspended them last month.

From August 1, only pensioners over 75 who are in receipt of pension credit will be able to watch TV for free, consigning millions of older people, many of whom cannot afford the full licence fee of nearly £160, even further into a pit of loneliness that’s been exacerbated by the pandemic and lockdown measures.

It was also revealed in September that of the nearly 3.7m pensioners who were no longer eligible for a free licence, there were still 1.5m pensioners over the age of 75 who have not yet been contacted and told that they’ve lost their licence.

Unite’s retired and Community members today (October 1) held a digital day of action against the suspension of TV licences and called on the government to row back on forcing pensioners over 75 to pay up. The online protests coincide with the UN Day for Older Persons.

Unite has highlighted how even though many over-75s are entitled to pension credit, a huge swathe of them simply don’t claim it because it is too complicated for them to do so or because they are embarrassed to claim benefits.  

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner explained how amid the pandemic, “millions have been left isolated and frightened, under virtual house arrest, unable to see friends or loved ones for months and often without access to the outside world.

“To take away that vital lifeline — to news, public-health announcements and entertainment — is an unforgivable conscious and brutal further punishment,” he added.

“With a second wave of local lockdowns upon us and temperatures falling, older people living on or just above the poverty line face an unthinkable choice between paying for food and heating, buying a TV licence or signing on for means-tested benefits in an attempt to get it for free,” Turner went on to say.

“For many, unused to claiming benefits and often declining to do so even when entitled, forcing them to claim complicated pension credits over the phone, online or with the assistance of local services cut to the bone by years of Tory austerity, is a disgrace.”

Unite Glasgow Retired Members branch secretary Mick Rice agreed.

“It’s obvious that people over 75 in a lockdown situation do not have many opportunities to socially interact with others,” he said. “Many of them will want to shield from others because of the impact Covid-19 may have on their health where they are particularly vulnerable.”

“In this circumstance, being able to watch TV takes on an enhanced importance because it is perhaps the only form of distraction and entertainment that they’re able to get. And then to tax that at this stage just seems to be a form of exceptional cruelty.”

Mick explained why means-testing for free licences was misguided and unfair.

“The difficulty is many older people have a certain pride about paying their way in society and may be ashamed or embarrassed to claim pension credit,” he said. “Therefore even those who are entitled to have a free TV licence because they are eligible for pension credit may well not have it or may not know how to go about applying for it. With these sorts of provisions, you find that people often have to have a PhD in form-filling in order to claim what they’re entitled to.

“This is why we need to have universal benefits rather than means-testing – simply because quite a lot of people without the means don’t want to or can’t do the test.”

By Hajera Blagg

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