politics

Campaigners welcome Scottish Labour plans to fund free TV licences for over-75s


Free TV licences would be restored to over-75s under Scottish Labour plans which have triggered fresh calls for the benefit to be handed back to pensioners across the UK.

The party’s leader north of the border, Anas Sarwar, unveiled proposals for a Staying Connected fund, offering grants to every household with someone aged 75 and over, up to the current £159 cost of TV licences.

It could be used to pay the licence free or other digital connectivity bills such as broadband.

Mr Sarwar told the Mirror: “For many older people, TV is a lifeline against loneliness and isolation.”



Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar

The move comes as voters across Britain prepare to cast ballots in May 6 elections for the Scottish and Welsh parliaments, and local councils and regional mayors across England.

The policy piles pressure on the Tories to take back responsibility for funding free licences after 3.7 million OAPs were stripped of the lifeline when the party broke a 2017 election manifesto pledge.

Hailing a “brilliant initiative”, Labour peer Lord George Foulkes, who chairs Parliament’s cross-party group on ageing and older people, said: “They recognise the vital role TV plays for many poor, older people for key information as well as entertainment.

“If the UK Government do not act now they will be exposed as callous as well as reneging on a manifesto promise on which they were elected.”



Lord George Foulkes chairs Parliament’s cross-party group on ageing and older people

Silver Voices director Dennis Reed said: “Many older people in the May national and local elections in England, Scotland and Wales will use candidates’ positions on free TV licences for the over-75s as one of the defining policies, when they decide how to vote.

“Silver Voices members will be writing to election candidates to find out where they stand on our two priority issues – free TV licences and solving the social care crisis.

Boris Johnson will pay a political price if he does not announce a change of policy on free TV licences before the May elections.”



Silver Voices director Dennis Reed

The Tories pledged at the 2017 election to maintain over-75s’ free licences for the rest of that Parliament, which was due to run for five years.

But the BBC had already been handed responsibility for funding the concession from June 2020, under a deal agreed in 2015.

It introduced means-testing after warning that keeping licences free for all over-75s would cost £745million by 2021-22.

Only over-75s who receive Pension Credit are now eligible – meaning an estimated 3.7 million have to pay £159 a year.

Bectu broadcasting union chief Philippa Childs said Scottish Labour’s policy was “extremely welcome and something that the UK Government should take heed of”.



Bectu head Philippa Childs

Urging the Government to “take back responsibility for providing a free licence”, she added: “Providing for a free TV licence for the over-75s should have always been the Government’s prerogative, and the decision to transfer the responsibility to a public broadcasting network that should not deal with social policy was unfair.

“For the over-75s, a free TV licence is an essential welfare benefit.”

The BBC and Government are locked in an ongoing blame game, with ministers saying the broadcaster “agreed to take on responsibility for the over-75s”.

But the corporation insists: “The decision to remove free TV licences for the over-75s was taken by the Government, not the BBC.”

The Mirror has campaigned to save free TV licences, with more than 18,000 readers backing the fight by completing coupons in the paper.





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