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Last Updated: Saturday, 27 December, 2003, 16:28 GMT
'Half-price TV licences for poor'
Watching television
Forty women a year on average are jailed for licence evasion
Half-price television licences should be given to the poorest households, an influential think-tank has urged.

The Institute for Public Policy Research wants concessions offered to cut fee evasion and the number of single parents jailed for non-payment.

Last year, 398,000 households were caught without the 116-a-year television licence

An average of 40 women a year - the majority single parents on income support - are jailed for non-payment.

The IPPR said on Saturday that single parents on social security benefits should be offered half off.

The institute, which has ties with the government, says it will use a major conference on BBC charter renewal next month to put pressure on ministers to offer the concession.

The concession would not be the responsibility of the BBC and must be decided by the government.

'Regressive impact'

The IPPR report, due to be published in January, found the licence fee takes a much higher proportion of income from poorer households.

TV licence
The BBC would have to be reimbursed 48.5m a year
For those in the lowest income group the fee is 1.85% of their income, almost 11 times more than those in higher groups.

The institute has calculated that by giving 837,000 single parents on benefits half-price licences the Government would reduce the incentive for evasion.

The BBC would have to be reimbursed 48.5m from the benefits system.

But that compares with 146 million spent each year recovering fees.

The IPPR also concludes there is a "pretty strong case" for concessions being given to everyone on unemployment benefits.

Jamie Cowling, co-author of the report, said: "To date it is our belief that questions around the regressive impact of the licence fee have not been addressed because any discussion in this area is usually led by those who have most to gain from weakening the BBC.

"The irony is, of course, that changes to the methods of collection of the licence fee are not within the gift of the BBC. It is down to the government to address the issue."

People aged over 75 already get the licence free while the registered blind pay half.

And disabled people and over-60s living in residential homes or sheltered accommodation pay just 5.

BBC charter

Earlier this month Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell said the BBC licence fee is likely to remain in place for the foreseeable future unless a better alternative is found.

Ms Jowell repeated comments that getting rid of the fee was "somewhere between the impossible and improbable".

Fee payers will decide the BBC's future through a public debate, she added.

The BBC charter - through which the government sets out how the corporation should be funded and how much money it gets - is up for renewal in 2006.

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