The Labour party is calling on the government to honour its 2017 manifesto pledge to keep the TV licence free for over-75s.
In its 2017 election manifesto the Conservative party promised to maintain a number of pensioner benefits, including TV licences.
Using an opposition day debate yesterday in the House of Commons, Labour deputy leader Tom Watson told MPs that this promise “lies in tatters.”
He said: “Today the House of Commons expressed unopposed its belief that the government must stand by its manifesto pledge to protect free TV licences for over-75s.
“Members of Parliament and campaigners have made it clear that scrapping free TV licences is a betrayal of our older citizens, and this government must listen.”
If the BBC proposes changes to the TV Licence, Mr Watson has called on the government to give parliament the right to approve them.
Free TV licence cuts
All households with someone aged over 75 currently get a free TV licence, which costs £745 million a year.
In 2015, the government announced it would no longer subsidise the cost of the licence fee and the BBC would have to find the funding itself, starting in 2020.
The BBC has warned that it may have to cut services unless over-75s start paying the licence fee.
The corporation says that renewing the scheme would cost around a fifth of its budget - the equivalent to what it spends on BBC Two, BBC Three, BBC Four, the BBC News Channel, CBBC and CBeebies.
A BBC consultation on how the TV licence for the over-75s should be paid for is due to be published later this year.
One option would be to reinstate the fee for those over 75, but this would particularly hit poorer pensioners and mean they could be prosecuted for failing to pay.
Other proposals include raising the age of a free licence from 75 to 80 or introducing means-testing so that only those that can afford it pay.
Alternatively, a discount of 50% could be offered for older people, although this would still mean a shortfall in funding.
Mr Watson said that it was not the BBC’s responsibility to “decide the fate of the free TV licence”.
He said: “The BBC has been put in an impossible position by this government, being asked either to make swingeing cuts to the programmes we all know and love or to take free TV away from older people.”
“This is austerity by the back door. The public know that, and pensioners know that,” he added.
Other MPs also slammed the government.
Sharon Hodgson, Labour MP for Washington and Sunderland West, said: “Loneliness is blighting the lives of people across the country, with four in 10 people saying that their television is their main source of company.
“If free TV licences are ended, curtailed or means-tested, millions of older people, who suffer disproportionately from social isolation, will have to pay to keep the little company they have.”
However, former culture secretary John Whittingdale said that the TV licence for over-75s was not a “fundamental pillar of the welfare state”.
A BBC licence fee currently costs £154.50.
Last month, a House of Lords committee report on intergenerational fairness called for the free TV Licence for over-75s to be phased out to free up more cash for younger people.
Age UK has warned that scrapping the licence fee could plunge as many as 50,000 pensioners into poverty.
Commenting on the debate, Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said the government had “resoundingly lost the argument, however brave a face they put on it”.
She said: “Whatever your views of the future of the BBC licence it is demonstrably wrong to drag older people in their late seventies and beyond, including the sick, disabled and chronically lonely, into what is essentially a political debate.
“The government has embarrassed itself over this issue but there is still time for them to take back responsibility for the over 75s free TV licence and right a big potential wrong. We very much hope they will.”