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.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    This poor lady's death is tragic, and i'm afraid just the tip of the iceberg. I believe many people have taken their lives since the welfare reforms started, and many will contemplate it and act upon it. This government doesn't care how many people die, as they are engaged in a war against the poor and sick. I hope someone holds this government to account for this lady's tragic death.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    Social housing was built for the masses, so it is appalling that the government continue to sell off social housing without replacing that that has been sold.
    This has caused the increase in private rents which has placed an unhealthy burden on the taxpayer in housing benefit payments.
    The way the bedroom tax has been introduced will increase the amount paid to private landlords by taxpayers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    #85 there was just over 6000 suicides in UK in 2011, there is some under reporting but to claim 26,000 from benefit changes is complete fabrication and does little to help highlight a tragic case.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    The "poll tax" was the end of Thatcher.
    The "Bedroom tax" will be the end of Cameron.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    This is just one case, The DWP says it does not keep statistics on deaths attributed to ATOS ESA assessments or suicides resulting from callous decisions made by a French I.T. company who are paid £110 million a year. Recent statistics from some charities claim there are 73 a day, more than 26,000 a year.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    Anyone who takes their own life deserves absolutely no sympathy whatsoever.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    What do I see working for a social housing organisation, I don’t see scroungers but genuine vulnerability, today a person living on less that 30 pounds a week, accessing soup kitchens to live. Everyday I see disabled and ill people, desperate! DHP is a FARCE a total Joke. Just like this government, in the long term this is going cost Billions – for god’s sake pull out now!! It is that bad !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    The housing benefit bill at £23bn, is because the government have to pay extortionate rents to private landlords.
    Simple answer, build more council houses, rents will reduce.
    Job creation and bill cutting at the same time.
    It's a disgrace the way this woman has been treated, but it's sadly not an isolated case

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    I'm saddened, angry and totally appalled at the comments made by ignorant, selfish and judgemental people who believe the Welfare State is designed to be abused by the vulnerable and yes, poor people of this Country. We, the disabled, the old and poor are not afraid of your pathetic "Moral" stance. We will fight back, We are Spartacus...

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    Post 79 cont....paid £450 a month rent and £110 council tax on same property for over 7 years before the spine got damaged at work and my company had me dismissed on medical grounds after lying to me to get me to visit an occupational therapist who they said was going to help me back to full time work, instead used all the info gathered to dismiss me. Justice here please i am not a scrounger!

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    I don't know what to do, can't stand for more than 5 minutes without agony, lost my job 18 months ago due to medical reasons, couldn't move home even with help, told i am not disabled enough to be exempt from this, failed to live on £71per week before getting new bill of £60 per month, feel like a victim i feel backed into a corner like a rat, i feel like lashing out, luckily i can't move enough

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    Perhaps if the government stopped allowing people to purchase their council houses there would not be a shortage of social housing.I also find it extremely unfair that the government gives a 60% discount for people to buy their council houses. as a private house purchaser no one gave me a 60% discount.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    Cont from post 76.

    Although this is a very tragic case, the government can't be held entirely to blame. She should have understood that there are people out there who's job it is to help people in who are in her circumstances.

    Maybe she wasn't aware that help was available, and maybe organisations like foodbanks need to put extra effort into reaching those who are most in need.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    Going on the media reports of this case, you've got to ask why she didn't do more to get help.

    Why didn't she have a foodbank voucher?

    Why didn't she write to her MP?

    She also apparently refused an offer of alternative housing from the council because it was too far from her Son's house. Many people today just accept it as a fact of life that they can't live close to friends and family.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    The reason why there will be no rent capping for private landlords is because most of our politicians own second homes which they rent out; the MP expenses scandal revealed how much they were claiming on second homes; why would they cap rents when it would mean they get less than they did before? They have to make up the shortfall somehow, now that they are not allowed claiming for second homes.


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