The BBC’s decision last week to axe free TV licences for many over-75s was met with howls of protest across the nation. It led to our sister paper, the Daily Express, launching a crusade for the BBC to reverse the decision. The campaign was backed by Dame Esther Rantzen, 78, who argued TV is a “necessity not a luxury” for many lonely OAPs. Former Strictly judge Len Goodman, 75, former Monty Python star Sir Michael Palin, 76, and ex-Blue Peter editor Biddy Baxter, 86, also backed this campaign.
By Friday more than 32,000 readers had signed a coupon in the paper and delivered to the BBC’s headquarters in London.
Now 503,250 have signed the online petition Switched Off: Save Free TV For Older People, hosted on Age UK’s website and calling on the Government to take back responsibility. And more than 162,000 have signed another petition on Parliament’s website calling for a debate.
Currently 3.7 million elderly viewers receive a free TV licence worth £154.50 a year. But from 2020 the BBC will means-test free TV licences as part of the licence fee settlement in 2015. Only 1.5 million who are claim ing Pension Credit – available to single pensioners who are on less than £167.25 a week or couples on £255.25 – will be eligible. But 650,000 poor pensioners will miss out as they do not claim it. The BBC argued that axing free licences will save it a fifth of its budget while funding them for all over-75s affects programme quality.
But the amount it pays its stars has been criticised, with Match Of The Day host Gary Lineker pocketing up to £1.8million, Radio 2 DJ Steve Wright up to £560,000, newsreader Huw Edwards £530,000 and Claudia Winkleman up to £380,000 last year.
In response to the outcry, Ben Fogle, 45, pledged to give his salary from his BBC One series Animal Park to Age UK, which is campaign ing against the changes. The Age UK petition argues “for over a million of our oldest citizens TV is their constant companion and window on the world.”
Charity director Caroline Abrahams said the number of signatures “demonstrates the strength of pub lic feeling about the unfairness” of the decision, adding the blame for the move lies with the Government.
She said: “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. That’s the least older people deserve.”
She added the aim was to raise 650,000 signatures, representing those OAPS who don’t claim pension credit, two in five of all those eligible. She said: “As a result the Government pockets £3.5billion a year – a sum that would fund a free TV licence for every 75-year old more than four times over.”