Labour launches Commons bid to overturn 'cruel' Tory plans to scrap free TV licences

Posted On: 
8th May 2019

Labour is to launch a Commons bid to force the Government to maintain free TV licences for older people.

Labour's Tom Watson is set to lead the charge against the Government plans
Credit: 
PA

Theresa May promised voters in 2017 that she would maintain funding for pensioner benefits, including free bus passes, prescriptions and TV licences, until the end of the current Parliament in 2022.

But under plans drawn up by former Chancellor George Osborne, over-75s could lose their free licences after responsibility for the £745m annual cost of the scheme was punted to the BBC as part of a funding shake-up.

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A consultation, set to report in June, is considering other ways to reduce costs to the corporation, including increasing the age limit when the benefit kicks in, or offering a 50% reduction on the £154.50-a-year fee instead.

But Labour has called on the Government to honour its manifesto pledge and scrap the "cruel" plans which they claim would leave millions of older people isolated.

Tory MPs could be forced to vote against their own manifesto if Labour succeeds in using an opposition day debate to push the proposals to a Commons vote.

Labour pointed to a new analysis on social isolation from older people's charity, Age UK, which found that 400,000 elderly people regularly go a week without meeting up with or speaking on the phone to friends and family.

The charity's investigation into loneliness also found that 70% of the UK's 4.5 million over-75s had a longstanding illnesses which limited their activity.

Shadow Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Tom Watson, said: "Tory MPs have a choice: to honour the manifesto they stood on in 2017 or to disregard it, along with the trust of millions of older people.

"These new figures show just how isolated and lonely many over-75s can be. It would be a terrible act of state cruelty to take free TV away from these vulnerable people."

Last month, a Lords committee report on intergenerational fairness argued ministers should cut back on age-based benefits, including free TV licences, in order to free up more cash for the younger generation.

Committee chairman Lord True said providing the benefits was no longer justified as the spending power in older households now eclipsed those of people in the 20s and 30s.

But a previous analysis by Age UK found 50,000 older people could be pushed into relative poverty if the Government presses ahead with the plans which could see a reintroduction of the annual fee.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport have been approached for comment.