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SCRAPPING free TV licences for elderly people would be a detriment to those who are homebound and chronically lonely as well as it being a Tory manifesto breach, Age UK and Labour warned today.
Charity director Caroline Abrahams said that TV is a “precious window on the world” for at least one million people aged over 75 who have disabilities, and around 250,000 elderly people who view it as “their main form of companionship.”
The BBC began its three-month consultation today on whether to axe the free licences after taking on the scheme from the government as part of its charter renewal negotiations.
Shadow media secretary Tom Watson called on ministers to “step in” to continue to provide them free-of-charge as the scheme is due to come to an end in June 2020.
The Tories had promised in their 2017 manifesto that they would “maintain all other pensioner benefits including free bus passes, eye tests, prescriptions and TV licences” until 2022.
Mr Watson said: “The government should never have privatised welfare policy in this way. Labour opposed this move from the start.
“The prospect of elderly people losing their free TV licences makes a mockery of the claim that austerity is over.”
TV licences would cost approximately £745 million a year by 2021/22, the BBC said — a fifth of the broadcaster’s budget.
BBC chairman David Clementi said the corporation’s board, which will make the final call by next summer, “does not underestimate the significance of the decision, its implications for the BBC and its audiences.”
Ending the scheme would mean BBC will not have to make “significant cuts” to other areas, but the board admits that it would particularly affect poorer pensioners who do not currently pay for licences.
The BBC says it could also reform the scheme in various ways including discounting the cost of a licence fee for older people, raising the age from 75 to 80, or introducing means-testing.
A spokesman for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: “We know people across the country value television as a way to stay connected with the world.
“It is right that [the BBC] have confirmed no decisions will be taken until the public have been fully consulted.”
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