Woman's suicide highlights dispute over welfare changes

Stephanie Bottrill Stephanie Bottrill lived alone in a three bedroom house

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"The government was to blame."

It's one simple, chilling sentence in the suicide note left by Stephanie Bottrill from Solihull early on the bank holiday weekend before the 53-year-old was hit by a lorry on the M6 near her home.

Because of the government's changes to housing benefit, she had been told that she would have to find an extra £80 per month in rent.

On the face of it this was a classic example of the under-occupancy on which the government is determined to clamp down.

Her children had moved away from the three-bedroom house. She now lived alone so the taxpayer had, in effect, been subsidising her spare rooms.

Discretionary payments by council

  • Birmingham £3,770,701
  • Bromsgrove £90,358
  • Cannock Chase £114,555
  • Cheltenham £203,354
  • Coventry £798,643
  • Dudley £494,398
  • Gloucester £234,429
  • Herefordshire £213,937
  • Lichfield £102,808
  • Malvern Hills £92,610
  • Newcastle u Lyme £135,044
  • North Warwickshire £77,981
  • Nuneaton & Bedworth£196,127
  • Redditch £136,516
  • Rugby £111,451
  • Sandwell £739,954
  • Shropshire £277,475
  • Solihull £233,422
  • South Staffordshire £94,263
  • Stafford £110,857
  • Staffordshire Moorlands£91,836
  • Stoke on Trent £548,270
  • Stratford on Avon £216,801
  • Tamworth £111,536
  • Tewkesbury £102,864
  • Walsall £590,745
  • Warwick £168,556
  • Wolverhampton £633,653
  • Worcester £172,487
  • Wyre Forest £152,091

But the house had been her home for 18 years. She had become increasingly worn down by illness and money worries and the reduction of her housing benefit appears to have been the last straw.

Her tragedy has inflamed still further the argument raging over the government's welfare changes in general and in particular, over what Labour call "the bedroom tax" and the government call "the spare room subsidy".

The Department for Work and Pensions say they do not comment on individual cases but in broad terms they are trying to introduce fairness into the system.

Their concept of fairness includes discretionary payments to local councils to help them cushion the effects of the changes for those individuals who find themselves at the sharp end of these measures.

In the West Midlands alone these payments total over £11m.

And when ministers use that word "fairness" (increasingly the major F-word in the debate about benefits as we head towards the next general election) what they also mean is fairness to the general taxpayer.

They point out that the cost to the Exchequer of housing benefit has doubled over the past 10 years. It now stands at £23bn, some £10bn less than the entire defence budget.

Recent opinion polls suggest the government's benefit changes are broadly supported by two-thirds of the electorate and the more Labour oppose them the more David Cameron is emboldened to ridicule the Opposition.

"It's supposed to be the Labour Party. But now it's the Welfare Party," he declared in a heated exchange with Ed Miliband during a recent session of Prime Minister's Questions.

But so often the real impact of politics comes not on the floor of the House of Commons but out in what we like to call "the real world".

Tragedies such as the one that befell Stephanie Bottrill have the potential to cut clean to the heart of a debate that has the potential to intensify still further.

Patrick Burns Article written by Patrick Burns Patrick Burns Political editor, Midlands

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  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    Margaret Thatcher introduced the sell off council housing & the money should have been invested in building more but was not.
    The legacy of this decision is with us today. Housing is too expensive whether buy or rent. If most of a family's income is spent on a roof over their head there is bugger all left to spend in shops & with our economy 63% reliant on retail is the reason we are in the mire.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.


    Get your facts right. DLA fraud is under 0.7% according to the DWP's own figures. If your so sure of people commiting fraud, why not report them?

    DLA helps thousands of disabled people to live an independant life. Motability is a car lease scheme, of course the cars get returned after 3 years, its no different to any other lease scheme.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    Josy – I agree with much of what you’ve written here, but think you expect too much of the family, appearing to expect them to step in where the government fails. Many people are alone without family in this country, especially the elderly (whose numbers are forecasted to increase) and others have dysfunctional families and relatives who would not act in their best interests.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    I fear this is just the beginning. :(

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    The loss of this woman's life is an awful event, but the reportage slant angers me. This lady had been offered alternative accommodation, she was not being thrown out on the streets. It seems to prove the benefits culture is raising a spoilt generation, who do not rely on themselves, but expect to be cossetted from cradle to grave. Her mental health was not highlighted - an ommission surely.


Comments 5 of 94



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