Gordon Brown urges Theresa May to stick to pledge to keep funding free TV licences for over-75s

Former prime minister claims decision that policy will be scrapped ‘contradicts the Conservative manifesto promise of 2017’

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Monday 01 July 2019 00:18 BST
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David Clementi on the BBC's decision to scrap blanket free licences for over 75s

Gordon Brown has called on Theresa May to continue funding free TV licences for over-75s before she leaves office this month.

The former prime minister urged Ms May, who will step down on 24 July, to honour the Conservatives’ 2017 manifesto promise to fund free licences until 2022.

He spoke out after the BBC announced that it could not afford to cover the cost of free TV licences for over-75s in the wake of responsibility for funding the policy passing from the government to the broadcaster.

The announcement prompted criticism from the government and Conservative MPs, but the BBC said it was the only way to avoid having to close channels and make major cuts elsewhere.

As a result, more than 3.7 million elderly households are set to have to pay £154 a year for a colour TV licence from next year. Only those eligible for pension credit will still be entitled to a free licence.

Mr Brown, who introduced the policy of free TV licences as chancellor in 1999, said it would be a “burning injustice” if this happened – echoing language used by Ms May when she first entered No 10 in 2016.

In a letter to Ms May, he wrote: “I am writing to ask you to consider ensuring that the manifesto promise – that the TV licence would be free for over-75s until 2022 – is honoured.

“The BBC are now proposing to charge 3.7 million pensioner households the full licence fee from next year.

“I am enclosing the submission I made to the BBC, which shows not only that this decision contradicts the Conservative manifesto promise of 2017, but also that it changes the balance between universal and targeted benefits and makes the BBC an agency for the means testing of elderly pensioners.”

In his submission to the BBC, Mr Brown said: “The numbers of pensioners in poverty have risen from 1.6 million three years ago to 1.9 million now and will rise beyond 2 million by 2022 – and the over-75s are almost 50 per cent more likely to be in poverty than the 65-75s.

“So, just at the time as poverty is rising, the benefit of a free licence is at risk of being taken away."

He added: “It seems ironic that the government have appointed a minister for loneliness, and have said they will audit each policy decision for its impact on loneliness, but failed to audit or ask the BBC to audit the impact of the withdrawal or scaling back of the licence fee for the over-75s. Once again another promise has been swept aside.”

Mr Brown told The Independent: “The one person who can solve the problem is Theresa May. This burning injustice can be dealt with by an executive decision in the next few days, before she leaves office. She will be thanked by not only 3.7 million pensioners but by the whole country.”

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