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Scrapping TV licences for the over-75s: If we tolerate this, then their bus passes will be next

PUBLISHED: 10:00 17 June 2019

BBC handout picture dated 18/01/2007 showing the BBC News 24 gallery, with BBC Director General Mark Thompson speaking on News 24 about TV licence fee rises. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday January 18, 2007. The fee will go up by 3% in each of the next two years, and 2% in each of the following three years, and up to 2% in year six. The price of a colour TV licence will rise from its current level of £131.50 to £135.50 from April 1 this year, reaching £151.50 in 2012. See PA story: MEDIA BBC. Photo credit should read: Jeff Overs/BBC/PA Wire.

BBC handout picture dated 18/01/2007 showing the BBC News 24 gallery, with BBC Director General Mark Thompson speaking on News 24 about TV licence fee rises. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday January 18, 2007. The fee will go up by 3% in each of the next two years, and 2% in each of the following three years, and up to 2% in year six. The price of a colour TV licence will rise from its current level of £131.50 to £135.50 from April 1 this year, reaching £151.50 in 2012. See PA story: MEDIA BBC. Photo credit should read: Jeff Overs/BBC/PA Wire.

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The BBC were all over pensioners on D-Day (I know, I was there as they filmed them), telling us how much we all owe the greatest generation. Within days they'd announced plans that will see that generation losing out on their free TV licence.

Do you remember way back when the Conservatives promised to keep TV licences free for the over-75s?

I mean you should, because it was only two years ago and the pledge was to keep the licences free for the length of Parliament, which means until 2022, but the Tories have been remarkably quiet since the BBC announced the benefit will soon be means-tested, even though it was them that forced the BBC into this situation in the first place.

In 2015, Child Catcher lookalike George Osborne made the BBC responsible for the free licences, meaning that the Conservatives' manifesto promise was as valid as when Boris Johnson told us all that if we left the European Union there would be a magical extra £350 million to spend on the NHS every year.

Osborne knew full well back in 2015 that by offering the BBC a few financial carrots, the BBC would take on the potentially financially ruinous responsibility for providing a free service to the over-75s and his party would dodge the bullet when the BBC quickly had to rethink its policy.

The BBC has chosen Pension Credit as its means-testing device of choice, which is handy as only 900,000 of the 3.7 million pensioners who currently receive a free licence will continue to do so - it also comes after a report the broadcaster commissioned itself warned that thousands of the UK's poorest pensioners would miss out. Nice. Thanks Aunty Beeb.

This kind of stealth tax on people who have spent their lives paying National Insurance and have earned the right to the paltry entitlements they do - bus passes, TV licences and so forth - is shameful, cynical and downright dangerous.

Or as Royle Family star Ricky Tomlinson, who has supported a campaign to save the free TV licences for the over-75s, put it: "The Tories want bloody horsewhipping for doing this and if there's a march I'd join the front of it.

"It's disgraceful, absolutely despicable, when they're taking a little bit of comfort from people who worked hard all their lives and deserve to be looked after. Television's so important to them, a friend and a way of keeping in touch."

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Or as Age UK's director Caroline Abrahams put it: "Make no mistake, if this scheme goes ahead we are going to see sick and ­disabled people in their 80s and 90s who are completely dependent on their TV for companionship and news, forced to give it up. The BBC's decision will cause those affected ­enormous anxiety and distress, and some anger."

Or as the National Pensioners Convention general secretary Jan Shortt said: "Pensioner poverty is now increasing, loneliness is reaching crisis levels among older people and the BBC has the bare-faced cheek to call this fair. It's an absolute disgrace."

Of course the BBC's director general Tony Hall has insisted that means testing is fair and said that if pensioners don't pay up then BBC2 and BBC4 will go down the pan (I am sure we could all suggest a raft of other BBC services that could be axed before they go, but that's by the by) but the truth is that older people - many of whom already get a raw deal after working for a lifetime - will be left choosing between food, heating or the only friendly face they'll see all day.

If we let this slide, the next thing to be scrapped will be free bus travel for pensioners - it's hardly sending out a message that older people are valued, is it? Quite the opposite, really.

Let's hope that the penny-pinching news from the BBC, via the Conservative Party, means that someone clever invents a machine that can block the BBC signal so that pensioners can carry on watching the channels that don't think it's OK to penalise the vulnerable. If it could block George Osborne too, I'd buy one like a shot.

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