Restore free TV licences for over-75s, charity Age UK urges Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt

Three-quarters of voters believe the government, not the BBC, should fund the scheme, poll finds

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Friday 05 July 2019 06:19 BST
Households with people over 75 are entitled to a free TV licence
Households with people over 75 are entitled to a free TV licence (Getty/iStock)

Charity Age UK has issued a challenge to both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt to restore free TV licences to all over-75s if they become prime minister.

The challenge to the Tory leadership contenders came after a new poll found that three-quarters of voters think the government should stump up the money to pay for the perk.

The charity’s online petition calling on the government to take back responsibility for funding over-75s’ licences from the BBC has attracted over 600,000 signatures.

Age UK said it had been “flooded” with calls and emails from elderly people across the country worried about losing their free TV licence, following the BBC’s announcement that they would be means-tested after June 2020.

Charity director Caroline Abrahams said that feelings were strongest among the elderly voters who are the most strongly motivated to vote in elections.

“There is still time for Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson to say that they will keep the promise their Party made to the public about continuing to fund TV licences free for the over-75s, and it is beyond any doubt now that the vast majority of the public will thank them if and when they do,” said Ms Abrahams.

The Treasury handed responsibility for free TV licences to the Corporation in 2015 and made clear then that state funding for the scheme - due to cost £745 million by 2021/22 under current arrangements - would end in 2020.

But the Conservative manifesto for the 2017 general election pledged that the party would maintain free TV licences “for the duration of this parliament”, which is due to run until 2022.

Some 75 per cent of those polled for Age UK said that the government - not the BBC - should continue to pay for the pensioner perk, rising to 92 per cent among the over-75 group affected. Every age group agreed by a large majority that government funding should continue.

And more than four-fifths said that the Conservatives should stick to their manifesto commitment to defense free TV licenses until 2022, rising to 98 per cent among the over-75s.

The Charity is warning that it will be the most vulnerable older people who will bear the brunt of the decision, including the 2.2 million over-75s with a long-standing illness which keeps them largely confined to home and the 2 million who live alone.

Research for the Charity shows that television is the main form of company for two in every five (38 per cent) of over-75s. Ms Abrahams said: “It is no good the Government saying that it’s up to the BBC to fund the free TV licence for over-75s now: these new findings show that if they stick to this position it is they who will ultimately be held responsible by the public for letting millions of older people down.

“Above all our research shows that the next Prime Minister will find himself on the wrong side of public opinion, unless he agrees to abide by the manifesto commitment his Party made to keep funding TV licences for the over-75s.

“And while people of all ages were strongly in favour of sustaining free licences, our incoming leader should note that at 98% the level of support for this among the over-75s is near universal, and these are people who study after study says are strongly motivated to vote.”

Shadow culture secretary Tom Watson said: “It’s no wonder people think the Government should stump up to save TV licences. The Tories made a manifesto promise to older people that they would keep their free licence. To see them scrapped after that is just cruel.”

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