Pensioners plan protest outside BBC NI offices in row over TV licence cuts
Angry pensioners are gearing up for demonstrations at BBC offices in Northern Ireland to put pressure on bosses to keep funding free licences for all over-75s.
The National Pensioners Convention (NPC) yesterday released a statement "calling on local pensioner groups, trade unions, community groups, students, members of the public, MPs and councillors to make a stand" on Tuesday, June 25 at BBC NI's offices in Londonderry and Belfast.
Organisers said the protest, entitled 'Don't Switch Us Off', is a reaction to the BBC's decision to means-test the TV licence for older people and the government's decision to make the national broadcaster pay for the concession.
"The NPC is absolutely clear," they said. "If we fail to protect this concession, the government will begin looking at the winter fuel allowance and the bus pass."
Pensioner Martin Gallagher, from the Northern Ireland Pensioners' Parliament, urged fellow pensioners to join him on the protests.
"We are calling for as many people to come out to these protests as possible, pensioners and supporters," he said. "When you consider that the BBC were two weeks ago praising the war heroes and now they are scrapping the TV licence for over 75s, it is just disgraceful.
"If this goes into action and they do scrap the licence fund, what you are going to see is a big increase in loneliness and isolation in people living in rural areas and older people living alone.
"That, to me, is going to have a detrimental impact on the health service in crisis.
"If we fail to protect this concession now, the government will be looking at other benefits that we are entitled to.
"Pensioners have worked all their lives to earn this benefit. Some pensioners are struggling as it is. There are people out there who can only afford to heat or eat.
"We need to make a stand. We want to make our voices loud and clear, we won't stand for this.
"We want people to make and bring banners, whistles, drums and anything else you can bring to make noise."
A spokesperson for BBCNI said: "It was the government who decided to stop funding free TV licences for all over-75s, and Parliament gave the BBC the clear responsibility to decide and consult on the future policy.
"If the BBC were to fund free licences for all over-75s, it would mean unprecedented closures of services and make the BBC substantially worse for all audiences, so we chose the fairest option by helping the poorest older pensioners.
"We want to raise the visibility of pension credit and have already written to charities and older people's groups to work together to do this.
"We have started a public information campaign which includes using our airwaves and writing to all 4.6 million households setting out the new scheme.
"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."