Pensioners across the country are planning to march on their local BBC offices later in protest against the corporation’s plans to axe free TV licences for the over-75s.
Four years ago the government told the BBC to take over the cost of providing free licences, which amounted to £745m.
Continuing to provide free licences for the over-75s would result in “unprecedented closures”, according to the BBC, and would see it lose a fifth of its budget by 2021.
Barry Todman, from the National Pensioners Convention, said that the BBC’s decision to scrap free licences for the over-75s was “sad” and predicted further cuts to pensioner benefits.
He said: “Where is it going to stop? Are they going to target the winter fuel allowance next? Then what? The bus pass?
“The television is great company for pensioners and I just think this decision is so very sad.”
Research for Age UK reveals that half of all over-75s – 2.2 million people – have an illness which means in many cases they are largely confined to home.
Two in five people say that television is their main form of company, while nine out of 10 in this age group watch TV every day.
But Paul Johnstone from the Institute for Fiscal Studies said it would be “very hard” for the BBC to keep paying £745m so over-75s can have free licences.
He said: “Pensioner incomes are now on average about the same as the rest of the population and they are significantly less likely to be poor than people of a working age.
“We’ve had a very big change. Look beyond income and clearly those older people are more likely to be owner-occupiers.”
The protests are understood to be taking place in a number of locations across the country.
In a statement, the BBC said: “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 £745m-a-year cost.”