It seems that elderly women are likely to feel the brunt of the BBC’s decision to strip millions of pensioners of free TV licences. In fact, women are two and a half times more exposed than men to be dragged through the courts after failing to pay the 154.50 pounds annual charge, according to 2018 statistics disclosed under the Freedom of Information act. They are also far more likely to end up in jail. Recently, licence fee abolition campaigner Caroline Levesque Bartlett said: ‘There is something deeply wrong with the system that routinely punishes women more than men, despite overwhelming evidence that men commit more crimes. The TV licence is a regressive tax and a deeply sexist one.’
The BBC’s own research into licence fee reform has revealed the Corporation knew that elderly women and other vulnerable groups such as disabled and dementia sufferers would be the worst hit by its decision. ‘Any decision other than copying the existing concession would affect more women than men, more of those from BAME [Black, Asian and minority ethnic] background, and more disabled people and those with long term health issues like dementia,’ the BBC’s equality impact assessment said.’Any decision other than copying the existing concession will also adversely affect more women than men as women tend to live longer. The decision to strip TV licences from 3.7 million over-75s not on pension credits will also have a more significant qualitative effect on women than men because women, especially older women, are more likely to be single and so be reliant on TV for information and companionship,’ the BBC’s research added.
Figures obtained by the Daily Mail show that of the 139,719 people prosecuted for licence fee evasion last year 100,725 were women. Around 9,300 were found not guilty, meaning they suffered the ordeal needlessly. The vast majority of evicted evaders got a criminal record and a court fine of up to 1,000 pounds. But in 75 cases people were jailed after they failed to pay the fine, spending an average of 19 days each behind bars. Of those sentences, 40 were for women – more than 60% of the total. By contrast, less than 5% of the general prison population is female, Ministry of Justice figures show.
Some people jailed in Northern Ireland for failing to pay their fine went to prison more than once because of the issue. Age UK director Caroline Abrahams said: ‘Many older women are missing out on pension credits and are therefore set to lose their free TV licence, despite living on a very low income. A big extra bill on top of the other challenges that many will be facing by this age will be a bitter blow; for many, the possibility of being taken to court for non-payment will be a source of huge anxiety.’
A TV licensing spokesman said: ‘Individuals cannot be imprisoned for licence free evasions, only for non-payment of court ordered fines. The number of women imprisoned in England and Wales in 2018 was four, a 50% reduction from eight women. Prosecutions in England and Wales have fallen by 6% from 138,000 to 129,00 over the same period.’
It is truly a scandal that the BBC was allowed to cancel TV licences for over-75s when the Corporation spend vast sums of money as if they have a printing press licenced by the existing government to pamper a vast number of their celebrity staff, where limits are not a consideration.
Theresa May should have intervened and stopped the BBC hierarchy from this madness, given that elderly people, especially women, are likely to suffer given the expected recession which I believe is likely to hit us hard as a result of her mismanagement over the last three years. The BBC should also be made to eat humble pie, be punished for their meanness and for inflicting misery on people who cannot fight back.