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Tom Watson issues plea to the Prime Minister not to break manifesto promise on TV licences

As consultation about to close, Tom Watson issues plea to the Prime Minister not to break manifesto promise on TV licences

Tom Watson MP, Labour’s Deputy Leader and Shadow Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, has made a last minute plea in a letter to the Prime Minister urging her not to break the Conservatives’ manifesto promise on free TV licences for the over-75s.

In the letter, he also highlights new Labour Party analysis which shows that by outsourcing responsibility for paying for the TV licences, the Government will be saving £745 million in 2021/22. This is in addition to the £220 million the Government will be saving in 2021/22 by changes to pension credit.

The BBC’s consultation on whether to scrap free TV licences for over-75s closes on Tuesday.

Dear Prime Minister,

I am writing to you on the urgent matter of free TV licences for over-75s.

Maintaining free TV licences for over-75s was a 2017 Conservative Manifesto commitment, but as you will know, the BBC is currently consulting on restricting the concession or scrapping it entirely. Now, millions of pensioners, many of whom voted for your party in good faith, face having to pay a large unexpected cost, or losing their TV altogether.

So far your Government has said that this is a matter for the BBC. I would urge you to reconsider and act to keep your manifesto commitment.

Our oldest citizens are some of the most vulnerable. Over 1.6 million over-75s are disabled and nearly a third live in poverty or just above the poverty line. 2.2 million over-75s live entirely alone and 4 out of 10 older people say that TV is their main source of company.

Age UK’s new research shows that over 40% of over 75s will have to cut back on either food or heating in order to keep their TV if they lose their free licence. I ask you to consider whether that is really something you want to happen during your premiership. Your Government should not be asking pensioners to choose if they want to be hungry and cold or lose the comfort of their television.

The BBC’s consultation on this matter closes on the 12th of February, and so this letter is a matter of urgency.

Any decision other than keeping free TV licences for over-75s will be a huge financial blow to pensioners and would come on top of other recent financial losses through pension credit. The loss to these pensioners is your Government’s gain.

By outsourcing responsibility for paying for TV licence your Government will be saving £745 million in 2021/22. This is in addition to the £220 million the Government will be saving in 2021/22 by changes to pension credit.

This money, nearly a billion pounds, is coming directly out of the pockets of pensioners. A billion-pound blow to pensioners is a billion-pound windfall for the Treasury’s coffers.

Rather than profiting from pensioners, I ask that your Government protects pensioners. Instead of using this money to bolster the Government’s balance sheet you should use the money to honour your manifesto commitment and save free TV licences for over 75s.

If you, a Conservative Prime Minister, won’t honour a Conservative Manifesto Promise, the Labour Party will.

I am copying this letter to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

Yours sincerely,

Tom Watson MP
Deputy Leader of the Labour Party
Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport