Protest focuses spotlight on who speaks for pensioners

As a group of pensioners protest against the BBC’s Question Time, Chris Bond says you’re never too old to take to the streets.

The idea of a group of pensioners protesting against the BBC’s Question Time for not allowing someone representing old people to appear on the panel, might sound slightly comical – especially when David Dimbleby, the show’s presenter, is himself a pensioner.

But this is no laughing matter for the National Pensioners Convention which says it has been trying to get one of its members on the panel of the flagship current affairs programme for the past three years only to be met with a polite thank you, but no thank you. T

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his prompted a group of 60-somethings to picket the filming of the programme at Exeter University last night, vowing to continue following the show around the country and protest wherever it’s filmed.

This isn’t the first time the BBC has been accused of ageism and it was quick to reject the claims insisting “all sections of society” are represented on the Question Time panel, pointing out that Dame Joan Bakewell appeared on the show in 2009 when she was an adviser to the Government on the elderly.

A BBC spokesman added: “Both the Question Time panel and audience are chosen to reflect a wide range of demographics, which includes pensioners. Many of our panellists are over or close to the age of retirement, including 20 in the current series, as are members of the invited audience.”

But Neil Duncan-Jones, spokesman for the National Pensioners Convention, which has 1.5 million members, says older people want to speak for themselves. “We’re not saying there aren’t older people on the programme, of course there are, but they don’t have people who speak for older people on the programme.”

What about Dame Joan, isn’t she a voice for the older generation? “She was a government adviser, she didn’t speak for all pensioners and I wouldn’t say she necessarily has a lot in common with many pensioners. There are a lot of big issues facing everyone in the future: pensions, retirement age and care, and we feel it’s time these were properly addressed.” And if their concerns aren’t tackled then pensioners are prepared to take more direct action.

“Protesting is the only way older people can get their voices heard, they have to stand up for themselves because they can’t rely on other people doing the right thing. There’s also this idea that once you’ve got your bus pass you’re finished and that just isn’t true and protesting is one way people can show there is life after work.”

Ageism is not the only thing the silver-haired generation is protesting against at the moment. Pensioners have taken to the streets to voice their opposition to the Pensions Bill, which will change the state pension age for almost five million people in the UK, and last week a 10,000-name petition was handed in to Downing Street.

There are about 11 million pensioners in the UK out of a population of just over 60 million, but there are fears that older people are being marginalised and sometimes even mistreated. The NHS care regulator yesterday raised serious concerns about the way some hospitals in England look after elderly patients. The Care Quality Commission said while there were many examples of people being treated with respect and given excellent care, in other cases people had not been helped to eat and drink, “with their care needs not assessed and their dignity not respected”.

Lindis Percy is an activist and veteran of the peace campaign against the US base at Menwith Hill, in North Yorkshire. She feels that pensioners are forced to protest because of the way they are treated.

“We don’t seem to value or respect older people. I’ve just returned from Spain where elderly people and children are treasured and looked after, but here they are often ridiculed even though they have a lot of wisdom and experience of life.”

Over the years, she has had injunctions issued against her and even been jailed for breaching them, but she continues to stand up for what she believes in.

“It’s important people speak out and whatever your age, if you feel strongly about something then you have to get out there and try to do something about it, because no one’s going to do it for you,” she says. “These days it seems like you have to be young and beautiful – and we were once,” she jokes. “But us oldies have different things to bring to the table, we’ve brought up families, we’ve seen how things work and seen them go wrong and we can help future generations avoid repeating past mistakes.”