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Gazette column - 6/6/19

Let's all get angry about scheming Tories plotting to force our over-75s to pay £154.50 each to watch TV by abolishing free licences.

The victims of this Conservative skulduggery might be you or an elderly relative so this is a matter of fairness.


And all of us would receive a free television licence instead of finding the money if we make it to that age and stop the Conservatives breaking a solemn promise.


Because the Tories, unless we force them to keep their word, would be breaching a 2017 election manifesto commitment to keep what Labour introduced.


The Tory double-dealing would short-change 6,000 pensioners in the Jarrow parliamentary constituency covering part of South Tyneside and Gateshead council areas.


Include South Shields, represented by my Labour colleague Emma Lewell-Buck, and the Tory toll is close to 12,000 older people the Conservatives want £154.50 a year from each. Every year.


It's a reason why we need a General Election, whoever is selected by the Tories to replace Theresa May, to put Labour back into power to govern for the many not the few.


Free licences are important to the elderly who suffer disproportionately from loneliness and social isolation when 40% admit that television's their main source of company.


Back at the 2017 election the Tories declared in their manifesto they'd maintain pensioner benefits mainly introduced by Labour yet they shifted funding to sub-contract responsibility onto the BBC.


We know who is really guilty in this scam and it is an immoral Conservative Government specialising in ways of making life tougher for working people.


When I tackled the Tory Culture Secretary in the House of Commons about this TV outrage he wriggled like an eel, answering his own question instead of mine.


Ministers who won't answer what's asked betray the lack of a legitimate reply, unable to defend what's indefensible.


Nationally the grabbing of free TV licence could clobber 2.4 million pensioners with a further 50,000 pushed below the breadline.


What is billed as a £745 million saving is on the other side of the coin a £745 million bill for our elderly.


I want us all to fight to maintain what we have now instead of keeping licences for some and not others, means-testing essentially unfair and a halfway house to axing them completely at a later date.


Or raising the age at which older folk qualify when some would, alas, pass away before receiving a benefit they'd paid into the welfare state all their working lives to receive.


I understand the BBC is expected to reach a decision this summer and I'm determined to keep up the pressure on the Conservatives to honour a commitment which still means something to us even if it doesn't to them.


Tory austerity was always an ideological choice and never an economic necessity.


The Conservative way is to cut and slash, divide and rule, abandon people and ruin communities.


Breaking a promise by scrapping TV licences for the over-75s is only a single example but it's another reason I want to see the back of the Tories.