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 51.

    There is not such a thing as Affordable housing. We need jobs, we need to grow our own things and make our own things. Stop immigration and get this country back how it used to be. The government has messed up this country for too long now.

  • rate this
    +9

    Comment number 64.

    I find some of these comments highly objectionable. People who object about the benefits system are usually fit, healthy and have a job.

    There are a small minority who work the system but I know a great many disabled people and those who have searched for work in in vain in deprived areas, at the end of their thethers.

    Just wait until somthing bad happens to you and see how you survive!!

  • rate this
    +9

    Comment number 67.

    It may help if this government didn't constantly trot out outright lies about welfare. The Unemployment Benefit accounts for 3% of the total welfare bill. Fraud accounts for 0.7%. This is from the government's own figures.

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 13.

    What would be better is for council executives to have their huge inflated saleries halved. Most earn twice as much as the prime minister. This IS a disgraceful waste of taxpayers/council tax money.

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 16.

    It could be you... in 2009 I was comfortably off with a professional job & debt free; one redundancy later I have been forced into poverty & am still scrabbling for work, applications flying out the door, little if any response, no help or support... it would be easy to be depressed did I not have the support of my family & my church - the state has failed me big time.

 

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