“The government was to blame” : Woman’s suicide highlights dispute over welfare changes


Patrick Burns, Political editor, Midlands
14 May 2013 Last updated at 11:53
Political editor, Midlands

“The government was to blame.”

Stephanie Bottrill
Stephanie Bottrill

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.

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.


9 thoughts on ““The government was to blame” : Woman’s suicide highlights dispute over welfare changes

  1. Andrew Healey says:

    Lets not forget that a large slice of that £23bn housing benefit is paid to taxpayers already in work, to subsidize the rents they cannot afford to pay because of the poverty wages their employers pay them, encouraged by this inhuman government.
    My condolences go out to the family and friends of Stephanie Bottrill, who will become just another statistic for the millionaires to argue over.Where is the Justice for people like Stephanie and the thousands like her. This Tory led abortion should hang their heads in shame, in fact every member of the house of the privileged should hang for the traitors they are.

  2. Serenity says:

    Most of the 23bl goes straight into the pockets of private landlords so why target social housing?
    Would not controlling rents in the private sector be the better option? Many home owners remortgage to buy a second property and make a fortune renting it out at a handsome profit with the tenant paying not only for the remortgage but also the fat profit the private landlords then trouser.

  3. Chrissie Fryde says:

    There have been many, many suicides. Nearly two thousands so far as a result of the benefit cuts and oppressive Atos tactics. Why is there not a huge enquiry? My heart goes out to Stephanie’s family, and I’m truly sorry that she ended her life so prematurely. How many more before the government are taken to account? Cameron blamed the “benefit culture”, or whatever words he chose to use for the terrible tragedy of the young family that perished in a fire set by their own stupid father. Why will he not talk about the benefit cuts suicides? When asked, his cabinet will say “The don’t comment on individual cases.” To turn their backs on the result of their callous criminal cuts and of the poor and disabled, is sheer cowardice. Their tactics have been compared to the ones Nazis used back in the 1930s many times. It’s sickening the way these poor souls, many of whom worked many years before their disability worsened are treated. The government bullies are probably kinder to their horses and dogs.

  4. julianna kenny says:

    saw this on google + feed. very very sad , so tragic. Why could she not have been allowed to rent her rooms to students to make up this new short fall, or be assisted to move to a smaller place in a sensitive and humane way -? If the British government is going to enforce this – they will have to provide housing for older people who have reared their families . They can’t throw them on the street or force them to starve. I think the reason the suicide statistics are so high in response to this is because of how the UK government has communicated and ‘branded’ this – they have stripped away the dignity of so many decent but poor people in a way that leaves them so completely hopeless they see it as an act of pride , a mark of protest. Truly truly awful.Heartfelt sympathies to her family .

  5. David Moynagh says:

    Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith should be dragged by the scruff of their necks in front of the international court of human rights to face charges of crimes against humanity. Both are as evil intentioned and sinister as the nazis in their callous treatment of the sick and disabled. They both deserve to be hanged. I would gladly step up and take the job of hangman so that we would rid our country of two verminous psychopaths.

  6. jeffrey davies says:

    theyl never own up na are they shamefaced over all that they going to cause more with this law of,taxing those who cant afford it if 23bill was used to build more housing and run by our councils well think there be more jobs but with them being private well lets say ops I cant afford to repair that will be the landlords account na they sell it off to their mates until the 00p3rcent wake up to it jeff3

  7. jeffrey davies says:

    oh just seen that bit posted rent out to someone else well think they got you again you living in sin they say to this yep living in sin

  8. AL says:

    Has everyone found wowpetition.com and signed it? The govt is carrying out cruel policies in our name. If we don’t approve we need to say. They need 100,000 people. Make sure one of then is you and then ask your friends. If they are human they will be moved by your appeal. Do it now and make a difference. Vulnerable people are suffering and losing hope. It could be someone you know, someone you love. I know you care.

  9. karin says:

    I find this article skewed- the author seems to be in one breath taking the monetarist line (as if costs are more important than lives) and in the next, calling it a tragedy.

    The monetarist line is bull as we all know. There is no excuse for the “Government” here. Their policies have DIRECTLY caused the death of this poor woman and many many others. What is going on here? People of the UK are sleepwalking into an Orwellian hell. WAKE UP! They have GOT TO GO.

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