634,789 PLEAD: SAVE FREE TV LICENCES, BORIS!
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