Written evidence submitted by Later Life Ambitions

 

 

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee Inquiry

The Future of Public Service Broadcasting

 

 

Later Life Ambitions (LLA) brings together the voices of over 250,000 older people through three organisations, the National Federation of Occupational Pensioners, the Civil Service Pensioners’ Alliance and the National Association of Retired Police Officers. We campaign nationally, regionally and locally on a wide range of issues to improve the lives of our members, and older people more generally.  

 

One of LLA’s key campaigns is for the inclusion of older people as we move into a digital age. We recently responded to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s consultation on the decriminalisation of the TV licence, in which we argued for the retention of the TV licence fee concession for over-75s, which allows older and vulnerable people to access a vital service free of charge. We have previously surveyed our members to better understand their views on this matter. We received over 6000 responses and have used this data to inform our submission. We have referenced this during our submission to this inquiry as it is relevant to the broader examination of funding models.

This is a response to the inquiry’s questions on accessibility, impact and looking ahead only.

 

Inquiry Response

 

Accessibility: How would changes to the Public Service Broadcaster (PSB) model affect the accessibility of services? How would a wholly internet-based service compare to the current PSB model?

 

Television provides a vital service for older and vulnerable persons, giving them a connection to the wider world, allowing them to access vital information and reducing social isolation. Many older people do not use the internet, meaning the television is their only source for news, weather and programming. Public Service Broadcasters (PSBs) are often the only place where older people can access this information. According to the ONS, 53.1% of adults over the age of 75 had not used the internet in the last three months.[1] PSBs are supposed to be representative and accessible to all but moving to a wholly-internet based service will exclude millions of older and vulnerable people who are not online. This would be not only unfair but also impractical.

 

PSBs are particularly important in the current circumstances given the disproportionate impact of social isolation on older people during the coronavirus outbreak. The current postponement of the changes to the TV licence concession and BBC Red Button Services should continue, to allow older people to continue accessing key information and entertainment.

 

Shifting PSBs to online platforms would undoubtedly increase loneliness amongst older people. Last year, Age UK found that 225,000 older people in the UK can go a whole week without speaking to a single person. Television is one of the tools older people can use to combat feelings of loneliness and isolation, but for many this will no longer be a possibility if PSBs go online.

 

When surveying our members, over 60% agreed that losing the concession would cause them to feel lonelier. Our members highlighted that television “helps enormously in combatting loneliness”, and many said they would “be alone without the concession”. 70% of our members also highlighted that their TV was their main means for staying up to date with news and current affairs and that losing it would be “devastating”.

 

LLA recently met with representatives from the BBC about the proposed cancellation of the Red Button Service. During the meeting, we highlighted that, much like the calls to move PSB models online, the proposals to move the Red Button Services online, make them completely inaccessible to many older people who are not comfortable or are unable to be online. Additionally, for some older people who are deaf, or those who are blind, the Red Button Service is the only way to access television. Moving PSBs to a wholly online model would lead to the end of this vital service, excluding those who need it most.

 

The Government have a responsibility under the Equality Act to carry out an Equality Impact Assessment in relation to the digitisation of both services. We believe this would be crucial to highlight the negative and possibly even discriminatory impacts that these changes could have on older people.

 

We understand that in a world of on-demand streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, PSBs must ensure they remain relevant and cost-effective. We do not, however, believe the way to do this should be by shifting the entirety of the PSB model online, because this would exclude so many of the UK’s older population.

 

 

Impact: What value, if any, do PSBs bring to the UK in terms of economic (local and national), cultural and societal impact?

PSBs are valued incredibly highly by older people because of their cultural and social impact including their reputation. Although PSBs are not the only place that older and vulnerable people can access public information, many older people see PSBs, such as the BBC, as a trusted institution; in 2018, 81% of over 50s trusted the BBC.[2] In a world where new technologies consistently provide new challenges for older people, it is important for them to have a platform they feel comfortable with. This is even more the case during the current coronavirus lockdown. TV is a robust and reliable format through which to share important information and is not vulnerable to security breaches in the same way that internet platforms and broadband can be.

 

PSBs also provide essential services beyond the scope of other TV providers. For example, the BBC extended its services to provide more entertainment and information for people through the recent coronavirus outbreak. Older people may not have had the same experience with other TV providers, illustrating the unique value that PSBs hold.

 

 

Looking ahead: What should a PSB look like in a digital age? What services should they provide, and to whom? In what way, and to whom, should they be accountable? Is the term ‘public service broadcasting’ still relevant and, if not, what is a suitable alternative?

LLA believes that a PSB can and should modernise in order to remain relevant in this digital age. However, this should be wholly inclusive, and all the services which older people currently enjoy and benefit from, should remain as they are; accessible, informative and offline. If PSBs are going to put some services online, they should conduct detailed consultations with groups of older and vulnerable people to understand exactly which services should remain offline, to ensure they are not excluded by these changes.

 

A PSBs funding model should allow for the free TV licence concession for over 75s. As a result of the proposed changes to the concession, many older and vulnerable people are going to be liable to pay the licence fee but will struggle to afford this on their fixed incomes. Others will find it difficult to navigate the digital system which is used to make payments. This could lead to a number of older people being classified as evading the TV licence fee, when in reality they are simply not in a position to pay it.

 

In relation to accountability, LLA believes that it is grossly unfair that the future funding of the concession has been pushed onto the BBC.  The BBC is an unelected body and should not be expected to make crucial decisions in relation to a benefit which thousands of older people rely on.  For that reason, we urge the Government to take back responsibility for the TV licence concession.

 

Whilst we believe that the TV licence concession should be funded by the Government, if they are to progress with their current position then the proposed ‘Simple Payment Plan’, to avoid front-loading of the licence fee for older and more vulnerable people, must be accompanied by an offline version to include those older people without internet access or adequate digital skills.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1] https://www.ons.gov.uk/businessindustryandtrade/itandinternetindustry/bulletins/internetusers/2019#generation-gap-narrowing-in-recent-internet-use

[2] https://www.journalism.org/2018/10/30/despite-overall-doubts-about-the-news-media-younger-europeans-continue-to-trust-specific-outlets/