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190,000 sign to keep free TV licences for over-75s

Window on the world: David, 84, said his TV was a vital lifeline

MORE than 190,000 people had signed petitions last night opposing the BBC’s decision to scrap free TV licences for people aged over 75.

One started by the charity Age UK had attracted more than 170,000 signatures while another 20,000 supported a petition on UK Parliament’s website.

Another calling for the licence to be abolished altogether because the £154.50 annual charge is ‘far too expensive’ had racked up more than 70,000 signatures.

It came after ITV’s Good Morning Britain host Susanna Reid fought back tears as an elderly woman begged her to stop the BBC snatching away her main source of entertainment. Another pensioner, David, 84, told the show there were ‘millions like me’ who would suffer because of the move to only grant free licences to households claiming pension credit — likely to mean 3.7million will lose out.

‘The TV is a vital lifeline for me and I’m not alone, there are millions of us in exactly the same situation,’ he said.

‘If the TV was withdrawn they would vegetate. That’s a very serious situation and it puts a very great cost on the NHS. That’s what they need to think through.’

Reid’s co-host Piers Morgan said D-Day veterans who were honoured for their bravery last week would be among those hit. ‘What an absolute disgrace. Shame on you, BBC,’ he tweeted.

Free licences were first paid for by the Labour government in 2000. In 2015, Tory chancellor George Osborne announced an agreement had been reached between the government and the BBC for the broadcaster to shoulder the cost as part of its renewed charter.

Free TV licences were an election promise in the 2017 Conservative manifesto. Tory leadership hopeful and former TV host Esther McVey backed the GMB campaign and said she was ‘ashamed’ of the BBC.

Leadership rival, and former Commons leader, Andrea Leadsom called the move ‘unacceptable’.

She added: ‘It’s a commitment in the Conservative manifesto and we need to find a way to reverse that.’

Labour MP Wes Streeting told the Commons this was the latest example of the Tories trying to ‘offset’ their cuts after responsibility for the policy transfers to the broadcaster from next year.

Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson branded the burden placed on pensioners an ‘outrage’, and wrote to Tory leadership candidates asking them to ‘honour their 2017 manifesto promise’.

On Monday, Theresa May urged the BBC to reconsider. The new scheme could cost the Corporation £250million by 2021/22.

A BBC spokeswoman said: ‘We’ve reached the fairest decision we can so we protect the poorest pensioners while ensuring everyone will continue to receive the best programmes and services the BBC can provide.’