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BBC must do more for older people after TV licence fee change, government says

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The government has said the BBC must “do more to support older people” after the announcement that most over-75s will no longer get free TV licences.

Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright said he was “very disappointed” that the corporation had reached the decision.

But Labour deputy leader Tom Watson said the government had “breathtaking gall to blame the BBC for this mess”.

The BBC said restricting free licences to over-75s who claim Pension Credit was “the fairest and best outcome”.

Around 3.7 million pensioners are expected to lose out on the entitlement when the change comes into force in June 2020.

The decision comes four years after the government announced the BBC would take over the responsibility for providing free licences for over-75s by 2020 as part of the licence fee settlement.

At the same time, the BBC was allowed to increase the licence fee and make it obligatory to have a TV licence to use iPlayer. On Tuesday, Mr Wright told the House of Commons that was “a fair deal for the BBC”.

  • The new scheme will cost the BBC around £250m a year by 2021/22, depending on the take-up
  • If the BBC continued to provide free TV licences to all over-75s, it would cost around £500m extra, the corporation said
  • The BBC said that’s equivalent to the cost of BBC Two, BBC Four, the BBC News Channel, the BBC Scotland channel, Radio 5 Live and a number of local radio stations – so services like that would be at risk
  • By comparison, the total pay for on-air stars earning more than £150,000 per year was £148m in 2017/2018
  • The pay bill for senior managers and executives in the same year was £37.7m

Mr Wright also urged the corporation to “use its substantial licence fee income in an appropriate way”, which included showing “restraint on salaries for senior staff”.

He added: “I firmly believe that the BBC can and should do more to support older people. And I’m now looking to them to make clear exactly how they will do that.”

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TV licence

  • £745mEstimated cost to the BBC of current scheme by 2021/22

  • £250mEstimated cost of new scheme depending on take-up

  • 190,000people consulted on the change

  • 52%in favour of reforming or abolishing free licence scheme

Maintaining free TV licences for those pensioners was part of the Conservative Party manifesto at the 2017 general election.

Conservative Party leadership candidate Andrea Leadsom called for a reversal of the plan, describing the decision as “unacceptable”.

She said: “It’s a commitment in the Conservatives’ manifesto and we need to find a way to reverse that.”

Her leadership rival Esther McVey said she was “ashamed” of the BBC, which had “forgotten the public they are supposed to serve”.

Labour deputy leader Tom Watson told the House of Commons that voters who read the manifesto pledge “have been betrayed and it’s shameful”.

He continued: “The government had the breathtaking gall to blame the BBC for this mess, but passing the buck won’t work.

“The BBC is not the DWP [Department for Work and Pensions]. Public broadcasters should never be responsible for social policy.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said “providing over-75s with free TV licences is not too much to ask”.

Conservative MP Ed Vaizey, who was culture minister when the licence fee settlement was made, told MPs the government should “either take back this policy or support the BBC changes”.

He said: “I was in the DCMS [Department for Culture, Media and Sport] when this policy was imposed on the BBC by the Treasury to meet its £12bn welfare target, a target which I doubt we have met and has long been forgotten.”

He added: “It [the government] shouldn’t use weasel words that undermine the changes the BBC has brought about.”

Under the new rules, only low-income households where one person receives the Pension Credit benefit will still be eligible for a free licence.

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Media captionDavid Clementi on the BBC’s decision to scrap blanket free licences for over 75s

BBC chairman Sir David Clementi said it had been a “very difficult decision” but this was the “the fairest and best outcome”.

Funding free TV licences for all over-75s would have resulted in “unprecedented closures”, the BBC said.

On Monday, Prime Minister Theresa May said she was “very disappointed” with the BBC’s decision.

Almost 150,000 people have signed a petition set up by the Age UK charity, which is calling for the government to take back responsibility for funding free TV licences.

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Lewis Capaldi’s teacher proud of ‘cheeky chappy’ Brits winner

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Singer Lewis Capaldi’s former music teacher has spoken of her pride at his Brit award triumph.

Kirsty Moore, who teaches music and drama at St Kentigern’s Academy in Blackburn, East Lothian, said he was “really laid back” and quite a “cheeky chappy” in the classroom.

She added that his talent came to the fore at the school’s annual talent contest.

“This massive voice came out of this little boy and it was amazing at the time and I thought he’s going places.”



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Heather Couper: Broadcaster and astronomer dies at 70

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Dr Couper was the first female president of the British Astronomical Association

Broadcaster and astronomer Heather Couper has died at the age of 70.

Dr Couper appeared on the BBC’s Blue Peter and The Sky At Night programmes, as well as presenting and producing acclaimed science documentaries.

She also hosted radio series including the BBC World Service’s long-running Seeing Stars and BBC Radio 4’s Cosmic Quest and Starwatch.

Her best friend and business partner, Nigel Henbest, said she had died on Wednesday after a short illness.

She had been a “charismatic… and passionate communicator of science”, he said.

“She got people really excited about the Universe and about space – that was her love, her passion in life.”

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She was a regular on TV and radio from the 1980s

Born in 1949, she fell in love with astronomy as a child and recalled a day, in 1968, when she had realised astronomy was not just “for shambolic old men in tweed jackets any more”.

She went home and wrote in her diary: “I want to help knowledge. I want to make known and publicise science.”

So she left her management trainee job at Top Shop to become a research assistant at the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge.

Her big break came when she was asked to appear as a guest on Sir Patrick Moore’s The Sky At Night.

Sir Patrick later recalled: “Of course, she wrote to me when she was a little girl and said, ‘Is there any future for me in astronomy?’ And I said, ‘Of course there is.’ And I tried to give her a hand.”

Astronaut application

She also presented the 1981 ITV children’s series Heavens Above and, in 1984, became the first female president of the British Astronomical Association.

Four years later, she co-founded a film and TV production company, then, in 1993, took up the chair of astronomy at Gresham College, a post previously held by Sir Isaac Newton and Sir Christopher Wren.

She and Dr Henbest co-wrote dozens of books as well as monthly astronomy columns for the Independent, the last of which was published on 6 February.

The pair even applied to be the first British astronauts, Dr Couper told the Guardian in 1993, but were quickly rejected.

“They wanted someone technologically on the ball, someone who would know what buttons to press in an emergency,” she said.

“If something blew up, I would think, ‘Oh Christ! What wire goes where?'”



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Pop Smoke: Rapper shot dead in apparent robbery

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The US rapper Pop Smoke has been killed, after an apparent armed robbery.

Los Angeles Police told Radio 1 Newsbeat a man was shot at his home and later pronounced dead, although didn’t confirm his identity.

But his label Republic Records says it’s “devastated by the unexpected and tragic loss of Pop Smoke”.

Police responded to reports of a robbery – and man was then taken to hospital and later pronounced dead.

Officers confirmed that an unknown number of suspects entered a property in West Hollywood.

They got a call about a robbery at 04:55 PST and were at the scene six minutes later.

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Pop Smoke at the Rolling Loud Festival, Los Angeles, in December 2019

Police say no suspects have been identified and no arrests have been made.

They also denied reports that a man was held at the scene but say one suspect is thought to have had a handgun.

Pop Smoke was signed to Republic Records which has said in a statement “our prayers and thoughts go out to his family, friends and fans, as we mourn this loss together.”

When reports first appeared in the US tributes began flooding in for Pop Smoke, real name Bashar Barakah Jackson – including from friends.

Pop Smoke had a breakout hit with Welcome to the Party in 2019 – which led to him being singled out as an artist to watch this year by BBC Radio 1Xtra, on the station’s Hot For 2020 list.

The station said he “possessed the air and cadence of a rapper who has been in the game for a decade or two longer than his actual age”.

The track ended up being remixed by both Nicki Minaj and Skepta.

Just last week Pop Smoke was a guest on DJ Target’s show on 1Xtra.

He was in the middle of several US tour dates and was due to come to the UK in April – with shows scheduled in London, Manchester and Birmingham.

50 Cent was one of many rappers, DJs and producers that paid tribute on social media, as did rapper Quavo, who Pop Smoke had collaborated with.

Last year he spoke about wanting to make music that inspires children who are growing up in poverty.

He told The Face: “I make music for that kid in the hood that’s gotta share a bedroom with like four kids – the young kids growing up in poverty.

“I make music for kids like that who know they just gotta keep going, that there’s a better way. That’s who I really make it for.”

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Listen to Newsbeat live at 12:45 and 17:45 weekdays – or listen back here.





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