Helen Mirren backs fight to save TV licences for the over-75s.
EXCLUSIVE: The Oscar-winning actress has thrown her weight behind the battle to preserve the benefit.
Ben Glaze Deputy political editor.
Dame Helen is one of 20 celebrities who have written an open letter to the Government.
Dame Helen Mirren today backs the fight to save free TV licences for the over-75s, as more than 11,000 pensioners aged 100 or over face being stripped of the lifeline.
The Oscar-winning actress throws her weight behind the battle to preserve the benefit as campaigners take their crusade to Conservative HQ.
Activists will deliver 36,000 letters addressed to Tory leadership hopefuls to Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt , demanding the party honour its 2017 election pledge to maintain the concession for the length of this Parliament.
And we can reveal how curbs meaning only over-75s receiving Pension Credit will continue to benefit, will clobber the very oldest in society.
Analysis by Labour shows 469,622 people aged 90-plus; 109,083 aged 95 and over; and 11,688 people aged 100 and over will lose their free licences next year.
Activists will deliver 36,000 letters addressed to Tory leadership hopefuls.
Highlighting how each centenarian receives a telegram from the Queen once they hit the milestone, Labour Deputy Leader Tom Watson said: “When you turn 100 years old you get a letter of congratulations from the Queen, but from next year centenarians could also get letters demanding payment for a TV licence.
“It’s a scandal.”
Age UK’s charity director Caroline Abrahams said: “So many of those in their 90s and beyond are in fragile or declining health, confined to their home and almost entirely dependent on their TV for entertainment and company.
Amanda Redman has also backed the campaign
“For this vulnerable group, the inevitable hassle and expense of buying a licence or having to self-validate their entitlement to Pension Credit to get a free licence may prove too much, consigning them to a life without television and stripping them of their connection to the outside world.”
Bectu broadcasting union chief Philippa Childs said: “This staggering statistic demonstrates the real human impact on potentially the most vulnerable pensioners of the Government’s cynical decision to pass responsibility for making decisions about future funding of the licence fee for over 75s to the BBC.”
The Conservatives pledged at the 2017 snap general election to maintain free TV licences for the rest of this Parliament
But the BBC was handed responsibility for funding the £745million-a-year bill from June 2020, under a deal stitched up by the Conservatives in 2015.
The Corporation has announced only over-75s receiving Pension Credit will be eligible.
Just 1.5 million OAPs are likely to be able to receive a free licence from next June.
An estimated 3.7 million will lose out.
Sir Lenny Henry has also publicly supported the campaign.
BBC bosses will be hauled before a Commons committee today for a grilling over the decision.
Director-General Lord Tony Hall blamed Tory austerity for the controversial curb when he gave evidence to a House of Lords committee last month (JUNE).
Age UK protesters will descend on Conservative campaign headquarters in Westminster as Corporation chiefs are being quizzed.
Backing the fight to save the benefit, Dame Helen, 73, 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.”
Lionel Blair was one of the 20 celebrities to back the campaign.
Twenty celebrities, including Dame Helen, have written an open letter calling on the Government to deliver the free TV licences pledge.
Signatories include actor Sir Lenny Henry, panto star Christopher Biggins, entertainer Lionel Blair, ex-newsreader Angela Rippon and actress Amanda Redman.
It says: “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.
101-year-old’s moving TV licence letter
“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.”
Others who signed the letter include former Shadow Chancellor and Strictly Come Dancing star Ed Balls, Countdown host Nick Hewer and Gogglebox’s June Bernicoff.
June, 81, said: “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.”
Age UK’s Ms Abrahams added: “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 over-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.”
Tory leadership underdog Mr Hunt has agreed to keep free licences but failed to outline any detail.
But race front runner Mr Johnson has refused to commit.