Protest planned outside BBC Look East headquarters against licence fee changes
PUBLISHED: 21:09 16 June 2019 | UPDATED: 21:16 16 June 2019
Protestors against the BBC's decision to means-test the TV licence for over 75s will demonstrate outside the Forum in Norwich.
The National Pensioners Convention (NPC) has called on local pensioner groups, trade unions, community groups, students, members of the public, MPs and councillors to take to the streets outside their local BBC bases, to make their views known about the changes.
In Norfolk, BBC Look East and BBC Radio Norfolk are both based at the Forum, in Norwich, and protestors will demonstrate outside the building from noon on June 21.
Funding the free licences, which have been available to all over-75s for nearly two decades, is due to be transferred from the Government to the BBC next year as part of an agreement hammered out in 2015.
And while the BBC has taken criticism for the move from some quarters, others say the government is to blame for passing the burden to the corporation.
The BBC has said free licences will be means-tested under a new scheme that intends to protect programming while dealing with the extra funding burden.
But Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said it had been "inundated" with phone calls and emails in support of a petition which has now reached half a million signatures.
She said: "The fact that our #SwitchedOff petition now has more than half a million signatures demonstrates the strength of public feeling about the unfairness of the government scrapping free TV licences for over-75s, and remember that about half of this age group (47pc) are not themselves online.
"Ever since the BBC announced its decision to means-test the free TV licence from June 2020, we have been inundated at Age UK with phone calls, emails and petition sign-ups, to the extent that our IT has sometimes struggled to cope."
She said the petition would remain open in the hope it reaches 650,000 signatures.
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Ms Abrahams added that the blame for the move lies with the government and issued a renewed call on all leadership candidates of the Conservative Party to take back responsibility for the funding of free TV licences for over-75s if they become prime minister.
"If the government wants to change it then let's have a proper public discussion about it, not the shabby behind closed doors deal which has led us to the mess we are in now," she said.
"That's the least older people deserve."
Labour has also launched a campaign to restore free TV licences for all over 75s, describing the move as "an act of cruelty", and another petition condemning the move remains on the Parliament website.
Many have criticised the move, including Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who said that providing over-75s with free TV licences "is not too much to ask", and senior Conservative Andrea Leadsom, who called for the new ruling to be scrapped.
In a joint statement released on Monday, the BBC's chairman Sir David Clementi and director-general Tony Hall said continuing the government's scheme would have had a "severe impact" on services and that the new model "represents the fairest possible outcome".
A government spokesman said: "We're very disappointed with this decision - we've been clear that we want and expect the BBC to continue this concession.
"People across the country value television as a way to stay connected and we want the BBC to look at further ways to support older people.
"Taxpayers want to see the BBC using its substantial licence fee income in an appropriate way to ensure it delivers for UK audiences, which includes showing restraint on salaries for senior staff."
Only around 1.5m households will be eligible for a free TV licence under the new scheme.
It is thought that around 3.7m pensioners will lose out.