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

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  • rate this
    -9

    Comment number 14.

    When Somalia was being colonised, did we not wonder that at some point, we would chickens coming home to roost? We reap what we sow, & as far as I'm concerned, why could her family not help out with £20/week; it was not a massive amount, was it? In all probability, her family are also claiming benefits!

  • rate this
    -8

    Comment number 68.

    We object to migrants who claim benefits as if they were the only ones doing so; there are equal numbers of indigenous Brits who believe they are entitled to benefits; it is their right; rights come along with responsibilities, I'm afraid, that is what is missing in benefit claimant culture, disabled or not. Can you honestly tell me parking for disabled is not being misused?

  • rate this
    -7

    Comment number 25.

    The welfare state was set up to help people when they lost their jobs or fell ill in the short term, it was not set up so millions can claim DLA so they can upgrade to the latest model available to drive around; if you look around, disability badges are being misused by relatives of person who has claimed a disability; it would appear 50% of the population are disabled, just so they can claim!

  • rate this
    -5

    Comment number 84.

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

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 10.

    I suppose any who claims benefit will be annoyed & upset by my question; that is probably 25% of the population who believe in their entitlement benefit; welfarism is the problem, because generations of people believe they are entitled to claim benefits, while the rest have to work twice as hard to pay for their lifestyles? It is criminal to expect others to pay for your lifestyle choices!

 

Comments 5 of 94

 

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