Saturday, August 16, 2014

Gov't accused over death of Stephanie Bottrill

The government has been accused of failing in its duty of care towards disabled people, after an inquest heard how a disabled woman wrote a suicide note blaming the “bedroom tax” for her decision to kill herself.

Stephanie Bottrill, from Solihull, died early on 4 May last year, hours after she had told her GP about the stress and anxiety the government’s housing policies were causing her.

In evidence to the inquest, her GP said Bottrill had expressed unhappiness at being pushed by the housing department of Solihull council to decide in just half an hour whether she would move to a smaller property.

Last year, her death led to national headlines after her adult son showed reporters a suicide note she had written the night before she died, in which she blamed the bedroom tax – known by the government as the spare room subsidy removal – and wrote that “the only people to blame [for her death] are the government”.

Bottrill had been living alone in a three-bedroom house – after her two grown-up children had moved out – but Solihull council had told her that because of the bedroom tax she was now “under-occupying” the property and would face a cut in her housing benefit if she did not move to a smaller home.

The inquest also heard that she had a long-term health condition and a history of anxiety and depression, and had previously taken an overdose.

The coroner recorded a verdict of suicide and said it had been clear that she had felt under considerable stress and anxiety.

But Maureen, a neighbour and friend of Bottrill’s on Solihull’s Kingshurst estate, told Disability News Service that she blamed the bedroom tax “100 per cent” for her death.

She said: “She was frightened of it. She didn’t want to leave here. She was adamant that she wanted to stay in Kingshurst.

“Everybody round here knew her and she used to make us laugh. All the shopkeepers knew her. She was lovely, a nice person.

“I think she was here about 19 years. To move away was the absolute last thing that she wanted to do. She was really upset about leaving the area. It would have been absolutely cruel to move her.

“She said she couldn’t afford to stay and she had got to move to a smaller property. She said she was struggling with money.”

Maureen said that one of the two properties Bottrill was offered was in Shirley, a 45-minute bus ride away.

“I personally think the council went about it all wrong, but I can’t prove that. You’re not dealing with a piece of paper and a machine, you’re dealing with a person.

“I had a go at one of the local councillors and said we don’t ever want this to happen again.”

Ian Jones, one of the founders of the WOWcampaign, expressed sympathy for Bottrill’s family, and said: “Irrespective of whether the bedroom tax was a causal or contributory factor in this tragedy, it is clear it was a factor and that this, and many other deaths where government policy has been a factor, were entirely foreseeable.

“This government failed to exercise any duty of care towards sick and disabled people when framing their welfare reforms and their continuing refusal to undertake a cumulative impact assessment of these reforms strongly suggests that they were planned as a deliberate crime against humanity.”