First, to international readers, this is an ongoing internal issue in the UK. I wanted to put my thoughts down, but if you are outside the UK, this will probably not be of any interest, so please save your time.
There’s a debate been rumbling on here for a while. It’s funny, I’ve heard the issue raised a few times these last few days, so I just wanted to get my thoughts down on paper.
The UK has a tax called the TV License. It is technically a tax on watching programmes from the BBC, but it dates from the time when BBC programmes were the only programmes out there, so the tax became, effectively, universal. In these days of 100s of channels, the BBC no longer has a monopoly, but they fudge around with this license so that we end up paying it anyway. There are various hoops you can jump through if you don’t want to pay, but most people just pay it.
That’s the general case. There is an exemption. The exemption is if someone is over 75. Your income does not matter, just your age.
There has been a storm in the UK because the BBC, who apply the tax, want to abolish that exemption. Over 75s would now need to pay.
Now, there are a couple of issues here.
The first one is the concern about poverty. Over 75s can be among the poorest in society, although this is not always the case. The most famous over-75, our queen, is worth an estimated £500 million. Even if you don’t understand £, that translates to a helluva lot.
Now, there has already been an attempt to tackle this problem. There is a state benefit, designed to help these poorest people by supplemenmting their income a little. It is arguable whether it hits the spot, and perhaps reform is required as very few people seem to qualify. But basically the rule will become that anybody in receipt of this benefit will continue to be exempt from the license.
The second thing is the isolation. It is common for elderly people to be isolated. It is common to claim that because of this isolation, TV is the only medium through which people can see/hear human beings. I do not doubt that this is true. But the argument continues that the BBC will therefore increase people’s isolation by starting to charge.
I don’t buy that. I don’t think that the BBC are increasing anybody’s isolation. What they are doing is saying that people must start paying for the service. If somebody is isolated and needs the TV for company, they still have it, they just need to pay for it. What if they can’t afford it? Well, people on the lowest incomes will still be exempt.
There is a further issue about whether the BBC is managing its finances properly. I think this is a valid point, but it is a different point to license fee exemptions. We shoulds be discussing both questions, but separately. Possibly the start point should be whether it is appropriate for the public sector (the BBC) to try to compete with the private sector.
- If we’re going to have a mechanism with any exemptions (which seems absolutely the right thing to do) then we should base those exemptions on wealth, not on age. This fits into the whole “social security” ethos.
- If the wrong people qualify as being exempt, then let’s fight that battle, and campaign for a change in the rules.
Lastly, did you notice how I got through the whole of this post without mentioning the cost of this tax? That was because its value is not really important to my argument. But if you are interested, it is about £150/year, which is roughly the same value in EUR and USD. I guess we will all have different views on whether that is a lot of money or not.