There are other perks that could go before free TV licences for over 75s

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

The decision to charge over 75s for their TV licences, unless they are deemed to be able to afford it, is in many respects unsurprising.

The BBC has been warning for a while that it might have to do this to meet a shortfall in its budget, after the government ceased to fund that category of viewer and listener.

The cost of continuing free licences for the over 75s across the UK is put at up to £1 billion a year. A back-of-the-envelope calculation, based on the fact that there are said to be 75,000 people in Northern Ireland alone who will be affected, suggests that if such NI folk paid for their licence, £10+ million would be raised. But the move is a blunt response to a complex problem, and older people are right to be dismayed by it.

Think of all the other examples of untouched, or barely touched, public expenditure that could be open to review.

Think of the decision, for example, by Stormont to give free prescriptions to everyone in Northern Ireland, including people with minor conditions who can easily afford it.

Or think of the decision, also taken by Stormont but reflected in London too, to cut the age at which people are entitled to free transport from 65 to 60 at a time of rising life expectancy. Imagine the money that could be saved, for example, if that was set a shade higher, at 63.

Think of how in Northern Ireland, almost 12% of the entire population (not just those of working age) — one person in eight — was on Disability Living Allowance before reform.

Think of the thousands of families in the Province that got more in benefits than the £26,000 cap, akin to a pretax income of £35,000, more than most workers can dream of.

Or of the scores of millions of pounds wasted in the RHI scandal. Did the Bloody Sunday inquiry need to cost £200m?

There are huge, often unreformed areas of public cost.

For all the increase in life expectancy, the over 75s are by any definition in the twilight phase of their lives. This is one of the last perks that should be removed, and if so, only after more deserving cuts have been considered.