Bedroom tax claims its first suicide

STEPHANIE Bottrill, aged 53, last week threw herself in front of a lorry at junction four of the M6 motorway, as a result of anxiety and despair at the prospect of losing her home because a “bedroom tax” cut to her housing benefit left her with a rent higher than she could pay.

She left notes to all her family and close friends. In the letter to her son, Steven, 27, she had written: “Don’t blame yourself for me ending my life. The only people to blame are the Government.”

Stephanie was in despair over having to find £20 a week to pay for the two under-occupied bedrooms she had been assessed for.

Days before her death she told neighbours: “I can’t afford to live anymore.”

Solihull council Labour group leader David Jamieson, who knows the family well, said: “I’m absolutely appalled this poor lady has taken her own life because she was worried how she would pay the Bedroom Tax.

“I hope the Government will take notice and reconsider this policy.”

The police came to Steven’s door at 9.30am last Saturday. They were there with his sister Laura, 23, and he knew something terrible had happened. They told him his mum had taken her own life.

He said: “It was a shock at first. You just ask why? The policeman told me she had left notes. I was on my own, looking after my little boy.

“I just wanted to keep looking after him, to keep it all in. I told the police to keep the note. I was still getting my head round it.”

So it was not until Sunday that Steven was ready to read the note. He said: “I couldn’t believe it. She said not to blame ourselves, it was the Government and what they were doing that caused her to do it.

“She was fine before this Bedroom Tax. It was dreamt up in London, by people in offices and big houses. They have no idea the effect it has on people like my mum.”

Stephanie had lived in her £320-a-month home for 18 years, but couldn’t cope with the extra £80 she had to find every month.

She needed to downsize but nothing suitable was offered to her. And she was upset she would have to leave the home in which she raised her two children as a single mother.

As a child Stephanie was diagnosed with the auto-immune system deficiency, Myasthenia gravis. The illness made her weak and she had to take constant medication.

Steven said she wanted to work, but there was no way she could. Doctors had told her she was too ill to hold down a job, but she had never been registered as disabled, so she lived without disability benefit. After splitting with the children’s father, Stephanie raised Laura and Steven on her own.

Eventually, Steven left to set up in his own place with his own family. It was close enough to visit his mum and he came round whenever he could.

Then two months ago Laura also moved out and into a flat with her long-term partner. It happened quickly and Stephanie struggled at first.

It also meant that instead of losing 14 per cent of her housing benefit for one spare bedroom she would now lose 25 per cent for two rooms.

She decided to tell the council she was living in a three-bedroomed house on her own. The £80 per month extra she would have to pay was too much for her. She would have to leave her home. Steven said: “She was sad about Laura going but she had got over that and was coping. Being asked for the extra Bedroom Tax money was just too much for her.”

Stephanie told her next-door neighbour Tracey Hurley: “I cannot afford to live anymore.”