Joan Bakewell has criticised the Government’s decision to give the BBC responsibility for funding licence fees for over-75s.
Following culture secretary John Whittingdale’s announcement last week that the corporation would bear the cost of the licence fee exemption – estimated at £745m by 2021 – previously absorbed by the government, Bakewell was “outraged and distressed”.
“It’s one of the social benefits Government bestows on the old, like free bus passes and the winter fuel allowance,” the 82-year-old broadcaster writes in this week’s Radio Times. “I think it’s quite sneaky to roll out social policy disguised as a BBC contribution to austerity. It isn’t for the BBC to decide how and who receives government support.”
Bakewell took to Twitter last week when news of the agreement first broke, telling her 17,000 followers: “Many over 75s willing to pay the license[sic] fee to save the BBC they love.”
She told Radio Times she’d had a wave of support online following her initial tweet: “Plenty agreed with me and wanted to know how to do it. Some explained it isn’t easy and means-testing is itself costly. But others wanted to persist; how can we help to save the BBC?”
Her call to arms was followed by a blog post written by BBC’s director of policy, James Heath, confirming that those exempt from the cost would be given the “opportunity” to pay the licence fee voluntarily.
Bakewell believes the new payback scheme will take time to be rolled out, but advises: “Right now I’m told the best plan is to get in touch with TV Licensing, who collect the fee, and tell them you want to start paying again. If you love the BBC, and if you can afford £2.80 a week, what are you waiting for?”
Read the full article in the new issue of Radio Times magazine, on sale from Tuesday 15th July in shops and from newsstand for iPad or iPhone