One of the Tory government’s meanest measures was removing the free TV licence from the over-75s. John Martin from Enniskillen, Regional Secretary for Northern Ireland of the National Pensioners’ Convention, spoke to Militant Left.
Martin sees reversing the removal as very important. “It’s one of the most prioritised campaigns for the National Pensioners’ Convention,” he said.
Martin knows the importance of TV for many elderly people. “When I was a postman I used to see a lot of people out the countryside,” he said. “I can tell you about one man. I said to him: ‘Why do you have the TV on all day.’ ‘Because I can hear somebody talking.’ That sums up the loneliness a lot of old people feel.”
Martin sees the behaviour of the Tory government as ‘disgraceful.’ “They said in the last two manifestoes that the TV licence would not be touched,” he said. “It got up my nose the way the rich and the Establishment can pick on the poor people, the most vulnerable.”
Martin said he will be writing to the Convention’s General Secretary in London. “What steps are we going to take now?” he said. “Are we going to be more militant, more radical?”
He doesn’t yet know the tactics that will be used. One possibility is organising pensioners to pay their licence in instalments by cheque every month. “If all the pensioners pay by cheque, it will gum up the system,” he explained.
Another possibility is that pensioners will block roads. “Some us would take ten minutes to cross the road, let alone blockade it,” he explained.
Already, the Convention has organised protests at BBC buildings in Belfast and Radio Foyle, Derry. In Belfast they had about 50 protestors, blockaded the building, and got into the foyer for a while.
Whatever the tactics, the campaign will continue. “You have to keep battling on, it’s all we can do,” Martin said.
Five years ago, the Government shifted the cost of the free over-75s licence to the BBC. Until August 1st this year, it had been free.
The licence is now means-tested by the BBC. “The BBC does not have the expertise to do that,” Martin said. “As well, means testing is not fair. If a pensioner is a couple of shillings over, they have to pay the full licence.”
That meanness has infuriated a group the Tories saw as an easy mark.