Tom Watson blasts ministers as BBC scraps free TV licences for millions of over-75s
Labour's Tom Watson has slammed the Government after the BBC announced that it was ending the free TV licence scheme for millions of over-75s.
Theresa May promised voters in 2017 that she would maintain funding for pensioner benefits, including free bus passes, prescriptions and TV licenses, until the end of the current Parliament in 2022.
But today, the BBC confirmed the £154.50-a-year benefit would be scrapped for almost three million over-75s, with only those receiving Pension Credits allowed to continue claiming it.
The broadcaster had held a consultation on how to deal with the £745m annual cost for the scheme after plans drawn up the former Chancellor George Osborne left the broadcasting corporation with the responsibility for funding the programme.
But BBC chairman David Clementi said the cut, which will come into force from June 2020, was the "fairest judgement" which would continue to help the poorest pensioners.
He said: "This has not been an easy decision. Whilst we know that pensioner incomes have improved since 2000, we also know that for some the TV licence is a lot of money.
"I believe we have reached the fairest judgement after weighing up all the different arguments. It would not be right simply to abolish all free licences.
"Equally it would not be right to maintain it in perpetuity given the very profound impact that would have on many BBC services."
But Labour's deputy leader Tom Watson responded with fury, saying the decision had left Theresa May's manifesto pledge "in tatters".
He said: "It is an outrage that this Government is overseeing the scrapping of free TV licenses for three million older people, leaving a Tory manifesto promise in tatters.
"In the same week that Boris Johnson has championed tax cuts for the rich, the Conservative Government has delivered yet another ruthless welfare cut to some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
He added: "I challenge all the Tory leadership candidates to honour the commitment they made in 2017. You cannot means test for social isolation. You cannot means test for loneliness. Millions of elderly and isolated people will lose because of this announcement - Labour will fight it with everything we've got."
SNP Culture spokesperson, Hannah Bardell, said: “After years of Tory austerity, and the deep financial uncertainty of Brexit, the last thing our older people need is the extra burden of £154.50 to their household bills.
“The UK government must U-turn on their broken manifesto promise and fully fund the TV license for our older people.
“The Tory government need to explain why they are breaking their promises on the TV license, and move now to ensure that our elderly population do not suffer from this ill-thought out proposal.”
Charities also hit out at the plans, claiming the cut would leave hundreds of thousands of pensioners facing isolation and loneliness.
Age UK charity director, Caroline Abrahams, said: “Make no mistake, if this scheme goes ahead we are going to see sick and disabled people in their eighties and nineties who are completely dependent on their cherished TV for companionship and news, forced to give it up.
“Means-testing may sound fair but in reality it means at least 650,000 of our poorest pensioners facing a big new annual bill they simply can’t afford, because though eligible for Pension Credit they don’t actually get it."
George McNamara, director of policy at Independent Age, said: "This is a massive kick in the teeth for millions of older people up and down the country.
"It is a great shame that the BBC has ignored the overwhelming case for keeping free TV licenses for all over-75s."