Harman reveals that female TV presenters disappear after they turn 50

Women account for 53 per cent of all over-50s but just 18 per cent of TV presenters above that age.

Harriet Harman put in a more than credible performance at yesterday's PMQs, and Labour's deputy leader is back in the spotlight again today, challenging the main broadcasters over the disappearance of women presenters from our screens after they turn 50. 

Harman wrote to the BBC, ITV, ITN, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky News in February requesting figures on the number of women employed on and off-screen and the statistics have now been published for the first time. Here are some of the most striking: 

  • Women account for 48 per cent of TV presenters under 50 but just 18 per cent of TV presenters above that age (despite representing 53 per cent of all over-50s). 
  • While TV presenters are broadly reflective of age in the general population (30 per cent of TV presenters are over 50 compared with 34 per cent of the UK population) they are wholly unrepresentative in terms of gender.
  • Only 5 per cent of all presenters and 7 per cent of the total TV workforce (on and off-screen) are women over the age of 50.
  • Out of a total of 481 regular on-air presenters at the BBC, Sky, ITN and Channel 5, just 26 are women aged over 50. 

Of the broadcasters, ITV performed the best, with 55 per cent of their presenters women aged over 50, followed by the BBC with 20 per cent and Sky News with 9 per cent. ITN and Channel 5 have no women presenters aged over 50. 

Harman said: "The figures provided by broadcasters show clearly that once female presenters hit 50, their days on-screen are numbered.

"There is a combination of ageism and sexism that hits women on TV that doesn’t apply to men in the same way.

"It is an encouraging first step that broadcasters have been open in providing these statistics. Their response shows that they all recognise that this is an important issue that needs to be addressed.

"I will be publishing these figures annually so we are able to monitor progress."

Harman has long been admired by the left and loathed by the right for her tenacious campaigning, most notably over equal pay for women and the Equality Act. Let's hope she's as successful on this front. 

The BBC headquarters at New Broadcasting House. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Brexit is teaching the UK that it needs immigrants

Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past.

Why did the UK vote to leave the EU? For conservatives, Brexit was about regaining parliamentary sovereignty. For socialists it was about escaping the single market. For still more it was a chance to punish David Cameron and George Osborne. But supreme among the causes was the desire to reduce immigration.

For years, as the government repeatedly missed its target to limit net migration to "tens of thousands", the EU provided a convenient scapegoat. The free movement of people allegedly made this ambition unachievable (even as non-European migration oustripped that from the continent). When Cameron, the author of the target, was later forced to argue that the price of leaving the EU was nevertheless too great, voters were unsurprisingly unconvinced.

But though the Leave campaign vowed to gain "control" of immigration, it was careful never to set a formal target. As many of its senior figures knew, reducing net migration to "tens of thousands" a year would come at an economic price (immigrants make a net fiscal contribution of £7bn a year). An OBR study found that with zero net migration, public sector debt would rise to 145 per cent of GDP by 2062-63, while with high net migration it would fall to 73 per cent. For the UK, with its poor productivity and sub-par infrastructure, immigration has long been an economic boon. 

When Theresa May became Prime Minister, some cabinet members hoped that she would abolish the net migration target in a "Nixon goes to China" moment. But rather than retreating, the former Home Secretary doubled down. She regards the target as essential on both political and policy grounds (and has rejected pleas to exempt foreign students). But though the same goal endures, Brexit is forcing ministers to reveal a rarely spoken truth: Britain needs immigrants.

Those who boasted during the referendum of their desire to reduce the number of newcomers have been forced to qualify their remarks. On last night's Question Time, Brexit secretary David Davis conceded that immigration woud not invariably fall following Brexit. "I cannot imagine that the policy will be anything other than that which is in the national interest, which means that from time to time we’ll need more, from time to time we’ll need less migrants."

Though Davis insisted that the government would eventually meet its "tens of thousands" target (while sounding rather unconvinced), he added: "The simple truth is that we have to manage this problem. You’ve got industry dependent on migrants. You’ve got social welfare, the national health service. You have to make sure they continue to work."

As my colleague Julia Rampen has charted, Davis's colleagues have inserted similar caveats. Andrea Leadsom, the Environment Secretary, who warned during the referendum that EU immigration could “overwhelm” Britain, has told farmers that she recognises “how important seasonal labour from the EU is to the everyday running of your businesses”. Others, such as the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, the Business Secretary, Greg Clark, and the Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, have issued similar guarantees to employers. Brexit is fuelling immigration nimbyism: “Fewer migrants, please, but not in my sector.”

The UK’s vote to leave the EU – and May’s decision to pursue a "hard Brexit" – has deprived the government of a convenient alibi for high immigration. Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past. Brexit may have been caused by the supposed costs of immigration but it is becoming an education in its benefits.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.