The Guardian view on the BBC and the elderly: a burden too far | Editorial
In retrospect, Gordon Brown’s 1999 giveaway of free TV licences to the over-75s, though doubtless well-intentioned, was a hostage to fortune. The cost of this benefit was shouldered by the Department for Work and Pensions, in turn moving a big chunk of BBC funding into the torrid world of political decision-making, away from its former position relatively insulated from arguments about government spending and cuts. This insulation was wise and deliberate: the founding fathers of the BBC in the 1920s – both within the corporation and the government – had foreseen the danger of arguments about the corporation’s financial arrangements becoming too closely embroiled in party politics. That, they foresaw, could imperil the BBC.
In 2015 the potential for disaster was realised. Conservative chancellor George Osborne decided the cost of free licences to the over-75s ought to be borne by the BBC itself – meaning a huge cut to its funds. Mr Osborne wanted the national broadcaster to know it was not immune to austerity. It had to do less, with less money. The move freed up resources for the DWP while punishing the “liberal” BBC. When the then culture secretary, John Whittingdale, conveyed the news of this decision, Tony Hall, the BBC’s director general, told him it would be like dropping an atomic bomb on the corporation. The move would cost the BBC £750m by 2020. This equates, it is now calculated, to the combined annual budgets of BBC Two, BBC Three, BBC Four, the BBC News Channel, and the children’s services CBBC and CBeebies.Read Full Article