Election 2019

General election 2019: Labour pledges to save free TV licences

Older people watching TV Image copyright Getty Images

Labour has pledged to keep free TV licences for over-75s if it wins power in the 12 December general election.

The BBC has said from 2020 only those on pension credit will qualify, after it was made responsible for funding them under the charter agreement.

Shadow culture secretary Tom Watson told the Daily Mirror the removal of the benefit was "utterly callous".

It has also been reported that Boris Johnson is looking to save the perk, as part of his election campaign.

According to the Sun on Sunday, the prime minister has ordered officials to find a way to ensure no over 75s would need to pay as a "priority".

The BBC and the government have come under fierce criticism over the move to scrap free licences to all people aged over 75, which was announced in June.

The decision came after the government made the BBC shoulder the cost of the benefit as part of its funding settlement.

The corporation said retaining the benefit for all over-75s would have cost £745m - a fifth of the BBC's budget - by 2021-22 and led to "unprecedented closures".

Mr Watson, who is also Labour's deputy leader, made the party's announcement in the Mirror, saying: "Four in 10 older people say the TV is their main source of company, but from next year 3.7 million older people will lose their free TV licence.

"It's disgraceful. Our message is clear - vote Labour to save free TV licences."

Loneliness

Paul Johnson, director of economic think tank the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), questioned the idea of free licences for over-75s.

He highlighted IFS analysis produced earlier this year which showed that households receiving a free licence had, on average, significantly lower poverty rates than other social groups, for example, families with children.

However, charities such as Age UK have supported free licences for over-75s.

In July, they organised an open letter addressed to the next prime minister, signed by public figures including Dame Helen Mirren and Ricky Tomlinson, arguing they helped older people facing loneliness.

The letter said: "For those who have lost a loved one, live alone, don't have family around and live with poor mobility and health issues, the TV provides a great source of companionship.

"It helps them connect to the outside world and brings news and entertainment to lonely and dark days."

Last month, a committee of MPs urged both the BBC and government to find a way to keep the benefit.

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