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Pensioners urge Tory leadership hopefuls to save free TV licences for over-75s

Around a dozen activists gathered outside the Conservative Campaign Headquarters in Westminster (Alex Green/PA)
Around a dozen activists gathered outside the Conservative Campaign Headquarters in Westminster (Alex Green/PA)

Pensioners have delivered a selection of some 37,000 letters to Tory Party headquarters, urging leadership hopefuls Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt to save free TV licences for over-75s.

Age UK organised the event, which saw around a dozen activists gather outside the Conservative Campaign Headquarters in Westminster on Wednesday.

They called on the party to honour its 2017 election pledge to maintain the concession for the length of this Parliament.

Protesters also delivered an open letter signed by 20 celebrities including Dame Helen Mirren, Sir Lenny Henry and Amanda Redman, calling on the next prime minister to reverse the move.

They carried banners and posed in front of the building’s gates alongside boxes containing some of the letters, chanting: “Don’t switch us off!”

Tony Gomm, 79, from Whitechapel in London, said the Tory Party risked losing “millions” of votes if it did not heed calls to scrap the move.

He said: “We have to hope they will take notice of the strength of feeling against the removal of the TV licence from a lot of people.

Activists from Lewisham Pensioners Forum
Activists from Lewisham Pensioners Forum with their banner, which reads Justice for Pensioners (Alex Green/PA)

“It’s going to be difficult for the BBC to do it because then they will have cut programmes. They can’t save much on salaries.

“I’m hoping the Government will bear in mind they could lose millions of votes if they are so mean-minded to deprive millions of pensioners of their TV.

“A lot of people really struggle to find 150 odd pounds to pay for a TV licence.”

Elaine Osborle, from Catford in south-east London, represented the Lewisham Pensioners Forum at the event.

The 66-year-old said she would like the BBC’s highest-paid stars to speak out on the issue.

She said: “I hope (the BBC) will change their mind. That’s what we want. But the BBC are very stubborn. They have made a decision without asking. That’s what they want.

“I will tell you who we would like to see put their weight behind it – Gary Lineker, Jonathan Ross, Chris Evans and suchlike because they are the ones who have scooped most of the BBC’s money in the past.

“I pay for my licence so that older people can benefit but the people who really benefit are those people.”

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 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.

Rosie McKearney, campaign manager for Age UK, called on the next prime minister to honour the election pledge.

She said: “We’ve received 37,689 letters from older people and people concerned about the TV licence being taken away from older people.

“They are addressed to Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson and they are calling on the next prime minister to take back responsibility for funding free TV licences because that’s what their manifesto promised to do.

“They are the people who ultimately make this decision. We think it is the Government’s responsibility to look after vulnerable older people and not the BBC’s.”

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