Rees-Mogg accuses BBC of "stealing pensioners' Ovaltine"written by Bella Palmer
The Commons Leader pledged to preserve over-75s' free licences
Jacob Rees-Mogg has accused the BBC of “stealing Ovaltine from pensioners” as ministers stepped up their war on the corporation over free TV licences for the over-75s today.
The Commons Leader, who like all other Tory MPs elected in 2017 pledged to preserve over-75s' free licences, accused the corporation of theft after it means-tested the benefit, following the Tory manifesto betrayal.
Mr Rees-Mogg told the Commons: I do think that the BBC has been unfair on the pensioners in requiring them to pay the licence fee. The hope was that they would not do this. They are basically stealing the Ovaltine from pensioners' nighttime drink by charging them for this licence fee.
The North East Somerset MP also said former Somerset cricketer Vic Marks, a summariser on the BBC's Test Match Special, should be paid more than “retired association footballer” Gary Lineker.
The Conservatives pledged at the 2017 election to protect over-75s' free licences for the rest of that Parliament, which was due to run until 2022.
But the BBC had already been handed responsibility for funding the lifeline from June 2020, under a deal agreed in 2015.
It said keeping licences free for all over-75s would cost £745million by 2021-22.
The corporation announced restrictions from August 1, meaning only over-75s who receive Pension Credit are eligible.
An estimated 3.7 million people have been robbed of the benefit.
Campaigners battling to revive free licences criticised Mr Rees-Mogg.
Silver Voices director Dennis Reed said: Older people need more than Ovaltine to calm our anger over the scrapping of free licences.
He said, Conservative MPs must take their share of the responsibility for this cruel policy – after all, it was Conservatives who forced the BBC to take on responsibility for this welfare benefit and it was then Conservatives who cut the funding for it.
Senior Conservatives like Rees-Mogg should be raising in Cabinet the need for the Government to keep its promise made in the 2017 manifesto that free licences would be protected until at least 2022, Reed said.
He said, the Government should summon the new director-general and agree a solution with him, as otherwise this controversy will continue to fester until the next general election.
Labour peer Lord George Foulkes, who chairs Parliament's cross-party group on ageing and older people, said: It is his Government who is reneging on a manifesto promise – no real gentleman would do that.
He said, the Punch and Judy show between the Government and the BBC must come to an end, with both parties getting round the table to sort it out. Otherwise, we will be reading more stories of how pensioners are going hungry or without heating as they struggle to pay their licence fee, particularly over the harsh winter months.
A BBC spokesman said: It was the Government who decided to stop funding free TV licences for the over-75s. Around 1.5 million households could get free TV licences if someone is over-75 and receives Pension Credit. Critically, it is not the BBC making that judgement about poverty, it is the Government who set and control who is eligible for Pension Credit and what level of payments are made.
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