Some of the tragic and unnecessary deaths due to welfare benefits being stopped…
Mr Nicholas Peter Barker
On 10 December 2012, Mr Nicholas Barker (51), a former shepherd from Helmsley in Ryedale, North Yorkshire, committed suicide. He had suffered a brain hæmorrhage in 1988 that left him partially paralysed and unable to work. As a result, he had been living on Incapacity Benefit for a number of years. On 4 December 2012, he was informed that his benefits had been stopped, and he contacted his GP for advice.
As the Coroner at his inquest noted: “The main factor worrying him was that his benefits had been stopped and had he attended the appeal he may have been successful, but it did not get that far,” he said. “It is evident that the matter was concerning him greatly.”
Mr Barker, a father of two, shot himself in his front garden with a shotgun, eight days before his appeals hearing was due to take place on 18 December 2012.
Ms Elaine Lowe
On 27 March 2013, Ms Elaine Lowe (53), of South London, committed suicide. She had tried to take her own life two days before and had been admitted to St George’s Hospital, Tooting. She suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She had received a letter from the DWP informing her that she was considered ‘fit to work’ and that her benefit would be stopped.
The Westminster Coroner said; “Ms Lowe’s quality of life was poor due to chest disease and lung problems… I am satisfied the drugs found in her system are a red herring. I am going to record the cause of her death as chest disease and conclude that she died from natural causes” and added: “Ironically, after her death another letter was found that [her benefits] weren’t going to be stopped at all.”
Mrs Stephanie Bottrill
On 4 May 2013, Mrs Stephanie Bottrill (53), of Solihull in the West Midlands, committed suicide.
Mrs Stephanie Bottrill lived on her own in a three-bedroom property owned by Solihull Housing. She was concerned how she could pay the Bedroom Tax when she was already struggling to feed and clothe herself. Although she went through the motions of applying for a smaller property with Solihull Housing, she was aware that a shortage of local authority housing would mean moving away from a community and home that she had lived in for 18 years.
Mrs Bottrill could not face that change, nor could she pay the Bedroom Tax. In the early hours of Saturday, 4 May 2013, Mrs Bottrill flung herself under a lorry on the M6 near the home that she could not leave.
Commenting on the Bedroom Tax, Mr Steven Bottrill (28), her son said, “It might look like a good idea on paper but the way it’s affecting people…”, adding: “I’ve lost my mum now and eventually it’s going to be someone else, so it’s got to stop” and “It’s definitely down to them putting this law in because she would have still been here.”
It has subsequently been established that Mrs Bottrill’s Housing Benefit should never have been stopped and that she was also exempt from the Bedroom Tax due to a 1996 regulation.
Mr David Barr
On 23 August 2013, Mr David Barr (28), of Leven in Fife, threw himself from the Forth Road Bridge. Mr Barr suffered from depression, paranoia and other mental health issues, for which he was on medication and he also had a history of self-harm. Talking of his son’s mental illness his father said: “He would claim people were trying to poison him but it was all in his head. He thought the police were following him.”
On Wednesday 17 July 2013, Mr Barr had been informed that following an appeal of an ATOS assessment, the DWP would be stopping his benefits and that they considered him ‘fit to work’.
David’s father said: “The assessment is ridiculous. They said David was fit for work but, in fact, he was fit for hospital. I’m in no doubt this matter was the final straw. I would say they are 90 per cent to blame for him taking his life. He’d just had enough.”
On Friday 23rd August, Mr Barr took a bus to the Forth Road Bridge and jumped from its centre. Although he was quickly recovered from the water, he subsequently died of his injuries in hospital.
Mr Tim Salter
On the 25th September 2013, Mr Tim Salter (53), a former assistant sales manager from Kinver in Staffordshire, committed suicide. He had been registered partially blind since 1994. His injuries were the result of a previous suicide attempt in 1989 after he had lost his job. Tim also suffered from mental health issues including agoraphobia and depression.
Following an ATOS assessment, Tim had been deemed ‘fit to work’. He lost his Incapacity Benefit on 22 December 2012 and had his income reduced to just £30 a week Disability Allowance. When his modest savings were spent, he fell into debt with his landlord, the South Staffordshire Housing Association. Tim was also having trouble finding enough money to feed himself. A proud man, he refused to tell his family of his financial troubles, or even that he was due to be evicted from his home two days before he took his own life.
The Coroner noted: “A major factor in his death was that his state benefits had been greatly reduced leaving him almost destitute and with threatened repossession of his home.”
Mr Salter hanged himself in the hallway of his home. His body was discovered by his sister, Mrs Linda Cooksey. She added: “It just sent him over the edge. He must have felt so worthless and that life wasn’t worth living.”
Ms Jacqueline Harris
On 2 November 2013, Ms Jacqueline Harris (53), a former nurse, was found dead at her home in Speedwell Road, Kingswood in Bristol. She had taken her own life.
Ms Harris had suffered an injury to her wrist when she had been savaged by a dog she was homing in 2008. Subsequent corrective surgery had exacerbated the original condition, which was made worse by the onset of arthritis in her neck and shoulder. She was partially sighted and walked with the aid of a stick.
Following an assessment lasting two minutes and one question (“Did you come here by bus?”), Ms Harris was deemed ‘fit to work’ and lost all her benefits. She tried to appeal the ruling on her own, but failed to reverse the DWP’s decision. At the time of her death, Ms Harris was making a second appeal, this time with the assistance of her local Citizens Advice Bureau, to the HM Court Tribunal Service in Cardiff.
The date for her appeal was set for 15 November, but she committed suicide less than two weeks before it. As her sister, also a nurse, said: “Being a nurse and a health professional I am so disappointed – anyone could see she wasn’t fit to work. She would have loved to have had a job but couldn’t. How much grief, pain and anguish do you have to go through before they realise?”
Her sister added: “If she was addicted to alcohol or drugs, she would have been given a sick note. Anyone could see she wasn’t fit to work.”
Mr Mark Wood
When Mark Wood, of Bampton, Oxfordshire, was deemed fit for work, his sickness and housing benefits were cut about four months before his death, leaving him with £40 a week to live on.
Coroner Darren Salter said Mr Wood’s death was probably ‘caused or contributed to by Wood being markedly underweight and malnourished’, but added it was not possible to establish the cause of death conclusively. Mr Wood weighed just 5st 8lbs when he died in August 2013.
His GP, Nicholas Ward, had written to the Jobcentre, saying Mr Wood was “extremely unwell and absolutely unfit for any work whatsoever”. Mr Wood had been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome and OCD in his late 20s. He later developed an eating disorder and cognitive behavioural problems.