For tens of thousands of older people living alone or struggling with mobility issues, a television isn’t just entertainment. 

It helps them feel connected, provides companionship for those facing chronic loneliness, and is their window to the wider world.

In fact around half of Scottish people aged over 75 say their TV or a pet is their main form of company.

A friendly face or favourite programme brightens their day and improves their quality
of life.

READ MORE: Means testing BBC licences for over-75s 'will force elderly to give up their TVs'

So it’s not surprising that the BBC’s announcement it will scrap free TV licences for 300,000 older people in Scotland in 2020 has provoked widespread alarm and anxiety. 

For the poorest pensioners, it’s another kick in the teeth as they cope with the rising cost of living.

Almost one-third of over-75s already live in poverty. Another £154.50 bill, or £1,000 fine if they don’t pay, is unaffordable for many on a fixed budget. 

Of course, means-tested free licences will be available to the 114,000 who receive Pension Credit. But four in 10 of those entitled to this benefit don’t claim it, often due to poor information or finding the process too confusing. 


Thousands more on the cusp of eligibility will also miss out and could be pushed below the poverty line. Those living with a long-term health condition or disability are likely to be hardest hit.

It’s easy to accuse BBC of wasting money on a new EastEnders set or six-figure presenters’ salaries. But the broadcaster’s mistake was allowing the UK Government to shift responsibility for providing free licences. This is despite a commitment in the Conservatives’ 2017 election manifesto to keep the universal entitlement.

READ MORE: Charging elderly for BBC licence is 'outsourcing austerity'

Like winter fuel payments and bus passes, this benefit is intended to help and top up a basic state pension that is one of the lowest in the developed world. This isn’t about young people subsidising those who are older – it’s about providing a dignified standard of living to everyone in their later lives.

Pensioner poverty and loneliness are large and complex issues that we won’t solve overnight. But we can put pressure on the Government not to renege on its promise. 

It’s time to do the right thing and switch back on this benefit for all older people.

Brian Sloan is chief executive of Age Scotland.