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Big names join forces to support free TV licences for the over-75s

Published on 17 July 2019 11:00 AM

Dame Helen Mirren, Sir Lenny Henry and Amanda Redman are among 20 celebrities who have signed an open letter urging the next Prime Minister to “save free TV licences for the over-75s”.

Ahead of the final Conservative leadership hustings and with less than a week to go until the country’s new Prime Minister is announced, the celebrities have joined together to express their disappointment about plans to scrap free TV licences for all over-75s and urge the Government to “think again and do what’s right for the oldest in our society”.

Highlighting their concerns about some of the poorest and loneliest over-75s losing out, the celebrities join the growing chorus calling on the Government to continue funding free licences, arguing that “responsibility for paying for free TV licences for the over-75s should never have been handed over to the BBC in the first place”.

Over four-fifths (83 per cent) of those polled by Age UK – equivalent to over 42 million people – believe the Conservative Party should keep its manifesto pledge to fund free TV licences until 2022.

The Charity has been inundated with support for its Switched Off campaign since the BBC made its announcement to means-test TV licences for the over-75s last month. Its online petition has now surpassed the 600,000 mark and the Charity has been flooded with calls and emails from people across the country who are worried about losing their free TV licence, or concerned for others who may be affected.

Since its introduction in 2000, the free TV licence has been a highly valued, universal entitlement for the over-75s which has helped millions to sustain their quality of life into late old age. Research for the Charity shows that television is the main form of company for two in every five (38 per cent) people aged 75+ and nine out of 10 in this age group watch TV every day. Countless older people have told the Charity just how important their TV is to them, using phrases such as a “lifeline”, “my link to the outside world”, “not just a pastime but a necessity… my life support machine.”

In support of the campaign, Dame Helen Mirren said: “It’s just absolutely heart-breaking that so many older people are going to lose their free licence, when television plays such an important role in their lives. In many cases it acts as an important contact with the outside world. I would urge all those involved including the Government to do the right thing and to carry on funding free licences for all over-75s – the cost of which is surely a small price to pay for keeping so many vulnerable older people connected.”

Gogglebox star, June Bernicoff, aged 81, added: “For many older people television is their only company in the evenings. It is a lifeline that keeps them involved, entertained and engaged and to take that away from them would be isolating and heartbreakingly unfair.”

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said: "Hugely welcome as it is, sadly this letter is also a bittersweet reminder of what older people will miss if they can't afford to buy a TV licence in the future.

"I think many older people will be hugely cheered to see these household names supporting their cause and they will be hoping, as we do in Age UK, that our new Prime Minister listens and takes back responsibility for funding free TV licences for 75s - whether it's Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt. The Government should never have outsourced this welfare entitlement in the first place but the new administration that is about to come into place at least has the opportunity to wipe the slate clean and right the wrong that's been done to our older population."

The open letter in full:

17 July, 2019

Dear Sir/ Madam,

We collectively urge the next Prime Minister, whoever that may be, to save free TV licences for the over-75s. We’re extremely disappointed that free TV licences are being taken away from the vast majority of over-75s and are deeply worried about the poorest older people who are set to lose out because they don’t claim Pension Credit – a benefit which is massively under-claimed by this age group.

For those who have lost a loved one, live alone, don’t have family around and live with poor mobility and health issues, the TV provides a great source of companionship. It helps them connect to the outside world and brings news and entertainment to lonely and dark days.

Responsibility for paying for free TV licences for the over-75s should never have been handed over to the BBC in the first place. It is the Government’s place to fund free TV licences and we call on the Government to think again and do what’s right for the oldest in our society. TV is their lifeline – their friend. Please don’t take it away from them.

Yours faithfully,

  • James Acaster
  • Ed Balls
  • June Bernicoff
  • Christopher Biggins
  • Lionel Blair
  • Ben Fogle
  • Len Goodman
  • Sir Lenny Henry CBE
  • Nick Hewer
  • Lesley Joseph
  • Miriam Margolyes OBE
  • Dame Helen Mirren
  • Diana Moran BEM
  • Amanda Redman MBE
  • Angela Rippon CBE
  • Levi Roots
  • Sylvia Syms OBE
  • Ricky Tomlinson
  • Kevin Whately
  • Matthew Wright

Notes to editor

About Age UK

We work with our national partners, Age Scotland, Age Cymru and Age NI and our local Age UK partners in England (together the Age UK Family). We also work internationally for people in later life as a member of the DEC and with our sister charity Help Age International.

Age UK believes that everyone should have the opportunity to make the most of later life, whatever their circumstances. We provide free information, advice and support to over six million people; commercial products and services to over one million customers; and research and campaign on the issues that matter to people in later life. Our work focuses on five key areas: money matters, health and well-being, home and care, work and training and leisure and lifestyle.

Age UK is a charitable company limited by guarantee and registered in England (registered charity number 1128267 and company number 6825798). Age Concern England and Help the Aged (both registered charities), and their trading and other associated companies merged on the 1st April 2009. Together they have formed the Age UK Group ("we"). Charitable services are offered through Age UK and commercial products are offered by the Charity's trading companies, which donate their net profits to Age UK (the Charity).

For more information

Contact the Age UK Media team on 020 3033 1430 (out of hours: 07071 243 243).

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Last updated: Jul 23 2019

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