OPINION - I’m under 30 and know people who don’t pay the BBC licence fee - this is why

·3-min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

It may well be one of those gaze-averting feline corpses, but news that the BBC licence fee could be axed before the decade is up has nonetheless given rise to yet another existential debate about the nation’s broadcaster — and who should be responsible for securing its future.

The question of whether we should all be obliged to chip in and pay is something that, like pretty much everything else, has become fiercely politicised in recent years. Is it a rod to beat the backs of elderly pensioners with little money to spare? Is it a relic, a symptom of an archaic organisation that refuses to modernise? Or is it a life-sustaining income source for one of this nation’s finest ever creations?

A cursory glance at Twitter will provide strong opinions from each and every direction, but particular focus has been placed on a demographic who, apparently, aren’t all that bothered about paying the licence fee: young people. The broadcaster itself has identified a “significant group of younger viewers who maintain a strong linear TV habit but are currently light users of the BBC”, seemingly lured away by streaming giants such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. And though it didn’t break the figures down into age categories, the BBC has also confirmed that in 2020, the number of people declining a licence rose by more than 200,000, up to 1.7m.

As someone under the age of 30 I have come across all types of fee-avoiders. There have been those who say they’ve never been contacted about it and so never bothered; those who ignored without consequence the sternly written letters demanding they pay; and at least one acquaintance who got given a court summons for not paying while at university and, rather than be perturbed by having the ire of Her Majesty’s justice system rain down upon them, was more concerned that any potential fine would eat into their carefully curated weekend booze fund.

And as much as some might try to rile us up into thinking this aversion is the result of the BBC’s output being made for and by the leftie metropolitan elite, I think it's more complex than that. There might be a degree of complacency. The BBC is, I think, an immovable landmark in the eyes of many young people, something that existed long before they did and that will outlive them too, regardless of whether they stump up 159 quid every year.

That said, some things the BBC puts out certainly do resonate — I don’t know any people my age who watched I May Destroy You without becoming profoundly moved by it, while Normal People was painfully relatable for an entire generation. And although quite a lot might not chime, aimed at different demographics, it’s not as if we all watch every single thing that Netflix ​puts out, either.

In the end, it probably does just come down to money. Young people are being squeezed by the ever-rising cost of living, and it’s a simple fact that it’s relatively easy to save money by not paying the licence fee and using iPlayer anyway (potential legal ramifications notwithstanding), compared to trying to log into Netflix without a paid-up subscription, which is the digital equivalent of a Fort Knox break-in.

Should the BBC be more protective of its content, then? To do that would surely be to betray its intrinsic purpose as a public broadcaster. But there’s clearly a problem that needs to be addressed, and something we all need to have a clear-minded discussion about (easier said than done, for sure). I deeply, sincerely hope that for young people, and all the rest who dodge the licence fee, it doesn’t end up in a case of only realising what we had once it’s gone.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting