Pensioners have staged protests outside BBC headquarters over the “scandalous” decision to axe the universal free TV licence for over-75s.
Britain’s biggest pensioner organisation, the National Pensioners Convention (NPC), called for events around the country.
It came as MPs agreed to debate the issue after an e-petition to continue to fund free TV licences for the over-75s reached more than 100,000 signatures.
A gathering of around 50 people arrived outside New Broadcasting House in London, holding up placards saying The Great British Turn Off, Bashing Bedridden Citizens and Don’t Switch Us Off.
And they shouted: “What do we want? Television licence back!”
Many took aim at the Government while others said they were angry with the BBC.
Ian Burleigh, 67, from London, said: “It’s a stealth tax by the Government hiding behind the skirts of the BBC.
“The Government should have had the courage to say this is what they wanted to do instead of trying to get the BBC to do it.”
And he added: “I have great respect for the BBC but they should have had the guts to stand up to this stealth tax.”
June Bishop, 75, a former legal secretary from Eltham, south-east London, said: “Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis’s shoes are probably worth more than what a pensioner gets in a month.
“The BBC is full of repeats. They do a good drama but I wouldn’t go to the cinema and pay the same money to see the same film over and over again. It’s scandalous really.”
The decision to scrap the universal perk from June next year has been criticised by TV stars Len Goodman and Dame Esther Rantzen and charities such as Age UK.
Funding the free licences is due to be transferred from the Government to the BBC next year as part of an agreement hammered out in 2015.
The BBC has said that funding the universal scheme would mean the closure of BBC Two, BBC Four, the BBC News Channel, the BBC Scotland channel, Radio 5 Live, and several local radio stations.
Ted Knight, 86, from Crystal Palace, south London, said: “The Government is responsible. It was a manifesto commitment.”
Mr Knight, who previously worked in education administration, added: “My fear is if we allow this to happen they will come for the other lifelines, the heating allowances, the free travel, which are essential to an older person’s life. That’s what they’ll come for.”
Joan Plant, 88, said: “Seventy-five-year-olds and up are children of the war, who have been through bombing, rationing, austerity…
“It doesn’t seem right that you (the younger generation) are picking on us.”
Dot Gibson, 85, deputy general secretary of the National Pensioners Convention, said: “These soaps and programmes are real to people who are lonely.
“That isn’t understood. It’s not a question of these people getting Bafta awards and the rest of it. It’s a universal benefit. You pay for it your whole life in your taxes. It’s not a perk.”
In Glasgow, around 40 people took part in a protest outside BBC Scotland headquarters, chanting: “BBC, BBC, keep our licence free.”
Some of those at the protest spoke of the impact losing their TV would have on elderly people living alone.
Billy Foster, 72, from Glasgow, said: “Lots of elderly people are really proud and they will refuse to be means-tested and will end up without a TV. It is a scandal.
“Some people don’t see other people from one week to the other and it is their only contact with the outside world.”
Pat Milligan, 77, also from Glasgow, said: “A lot of women in my age group are widows or have family that live elsewhere and TV is their contact with the outside world.
“For lots of elderly people their dignity is very important and to go through the whole means-testing process, they would be put off.
“I don’t think it should be on the BBC, it should be on this government, it should be on the Conservative Government, they’ve passed the buck to the BBC which I don’t think is very democratic at all.”
Many protesters held placards with messages such as Save Our Free TV Licence.
Jake McLeod, 73, chairman of the Unite retired members branch for Glasgow and the west of Scotland, said: “The Tories in their manifesto made it quite clear that they were going to keep the licence for the over-75s but the onus has been put back on the BBC…
“In our opinion the Tories are to blame for it all and we hope that a demonstration of this nature will grow throughout the country and they will see sense and assist those elderly people that need their TV to keep themselves going because that’s all they’ve got, a lot of people, stuck in their house.”
MPs will debate the issue at Westminster Hall on July 15, as well as two other petitions – the call for a public inquiry into alleged bias at the BBC and for the TV licence to be abolished.
Any e-petition through the parliamentary system that has more than 100,000 signatures is considered for debate.
A BBC spokeswoman later added: “We appreciate that people feel strongly about this issue, and recognise that many people have signed the Age UK petition calling on the Government to restore funding for free TV licences.
“We know pensioner poverty is an important issue, and that’s why we’re ensuring the poorest older pensioners continue to get a free licence, while avoiding the closure of major services which would be necessary if we were to meet the £745 million-a-year cost.
“We have written to charities and older people’s groups to work together to ensure the poorest older pensioners know how to claim Pension Credit. We hope that pensioners will consider claiming as they could then be eligible for around £2,500 and other benefits as well as a free TV licence.”