Daily Express - - FRONT PAGE - By Giles Sheldrick

BORIS John­son was last night given 634,789 rea­sons to save pen­sion­ers’ free TV li­cences.

As anger mounts over both the Gov­ern­ment and BBC’s de­lay in halt­ing plans to make over-75s pay, a del­e­ga­tion marched on Down­ing Street and handed over

a pe­ti­tion de­mand­ing the new Prime Min­is­ter step in and solve the row.

The Age UK pe­ti­tion, signed by 634,789 peo­ple, urged Mr John­son “to do the right thing” and re­verse the decision to axe the ben­e­fit.

It is one of the largest pe­ti­tions de­liv­ered to Down­ing Street.

While No 10 re­fused to com­ment on the is­sue, Jane Vass, the char­ity’s di­rec­tor of pol­icy and re­search, said: “This is the largest pe­ti­tion we have ever run with more than 634,000 peo­ple ask­ing the Prime Min­is­ter to take ac­tion to en­sure some of the most dis­ad­van­taged in so­ci­ety can keep their TV li­cences. This is fun­da­men­tally im­por­tant be­cause pen­sion­ers are hugely re­liant on TV and without it they will suf­fer.”

Free TV li­cences for over-75s – cur­rently worth £154.50 – were in­tro­duced in 2000.

In 2015, the then Con­ser­va­tive chan­cel­lor Ge­orge Os­borne struck a deal with the BBC in which they picked up the bill from 2020/21 as part of their char­ter re­newal.

The 2017 Con­ser­va­tive man­i­festo con­tained a prom­ise to con­tinue the ben­e­fit.

Un­der the con­tro­ver­sial BBC plans some 3.75 mil­lion over 75s will be re­quired to buy a TV li­cence un­less they can prove they are get­ting pen­sion credit. Anal­y­sis shows that more than 1.3 mil­lion sick and vul­ner­a­ble pen­sion­ers will be hounded for TV li­cence cash from

June 1. The fig­ure in­cludes 672,000 de­men­tia suf­fer­ers and 662,000 se­verely frail OAPs. Wheel­chair-bound for­mer Royal Navy hero David Hunter, 85, from Lu­ton, was one of the del­e­ga­tion hand­ing over the pe­ti­tion.

He said: “What wor­ries me is that if this is taken away the NHS will be swamped with un­told num­bers of el­derly peo­ple with stress-re­lated ill­nesses. The Prime Min­is­ter has got to put this right and act im­me­di­ately.”

A galaxy of stars in­clud­ing Os­car-win­ning ac­tress Dame He­len Mir­ren have told the Gov­ern­ment to re­think its “heart­break­ing” decision.

Twenty celebri­ties in­clud­ing for­mer Strictly Come Danc­ing head judge Len Good­man, 75, ac­tress Amanda Red­man, 61, co­me­dian Sir Lenny Henry, 60, and en­ter­tainer Lionel Blair, 90, have signed an open let­ter urg­ing Mr John­son to save the con­ces­sion.

The BBC said charging the vul­ner­a­ble was “fair” be­cause it was strapped for cash and could not af­ford to con­tinue the perk.

It said con­tin­u­ing to fund free TV li­cences would cost it “£745mil­lion a year and ris­ing”. But its claim to be hard-up comes as ac­counts showed it forked out £159mil­lion on pre­sen­ter pay last year – up al­most £11mil­lion in 12 months.

A Gov­ern­ment spokesman said: “We’re very dis­ap­pointed with the BBC’s decision – we’ve been clear that we want and ex­pect it to con­tinue this con­ces­sion.

“Peo­ple across the coun­try value tele­vi­sion as a way to stay con­nected, and we want the BBC to look at fur­ther ways to sup­port older peo­ple.”

BORIS John­son must not ig­nore the plea of nearly 635,000 peo­ple for him to save free TV li­cences for pen­sion­ers. This is an early test for the Prime Min­is­ter who will be fully aware of the power pen­sion­ers pos­sess at the bal­lot box.

We are con­fi­dent he will de­liver. On the cam­paign trail he left no­body in any doubt that the BBC should be “cough­ing up” the cash rather than mak­ing over-75s pay to watch tele­vi­sion.

Pen­sion­ers turned up on his Down­ing St doorstep yes­ter­day with a pe­ti­tion urg­ing him to “do the right thing”. He will face anger and dis­may if mil­lions of older cit­i­zens have to pay £154.50 or risk pros­e­cu­tion.

The plans to make over-75s who are not in re­ceipt of pen­sion credit pay for their li­cences is not just a fi­asco, al­though it is a dis­grace the plans were put for­ward in the first place.The prospect of hav­ing to find the ex­tra cash is a cause of true dis­tress for many peo­ple who can­not af­ford another blow to their fi­nances.

Through­out their work­ing lives they have paid their taxes, in­clud­ing their li­cence fee.

Mr John­son should not de­lay in as­sur­ing them that he will hon­our the 2017 man­i­festo and en­sure they are not stripped of this im­por­tant ben­e­fit.

The Age UK del­e­ga­tion out­side Down­ing Street yes­ter­day where the huge pe­ti­tion was pre­sented

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