The latest death due to a “fit for work” decision may also be among the earliest.
Coroner Tom Osbourne blamed the death of Stephen Carré on a decision by the Department for Work and Pensions that the bipolar Employment and Support Allowance claimant, who was clinically depressed, was fit for work following a work capability assessment.
He joins Michael O’Sullivan and Julia Kelly, both of whose suicides were blamed on the result of work capability assessments by their respective coroners, as the weight of evidence mounts up against the process.
Recently, This Blog demonstrated that deaths of ESA claimants began to decrease after the DWP suspended repeat assessments of ESA claimants in January 2014.
Stephen Carré took his own life in 2010 after he lost an appeal against the finding that he was fit to return to work. He was clinically depressed and had been diagnosed as bipolar.
At the inquest into his death the coroner ruled that the decision that he was “fit for work” had been the trigger for his suicide.
The coroner made his concerns about the system known to the Department of Work and Pensions in March 2010 by issuing what was then known as a Rule 43, a rare and significant intervention.
“I feel the decision by the department NOT to seek medical advice from the claimant’s own GP or psychiatrist if they are suffering a mental illness should be reviewed,” Coroner Tom Osbourne wrote.
His office told ITV News they have never received a “substantive” reply from the DWP to their 2010 letter.
Professor Malcolm Harrington, who led the first three of the Government’s five Independent Reviews into the WCA from 2010 to 2012, says if he had known about the case, he would have raised the alarm about the vulnerability of mental health claimants in the system earlier and more vehemently in the first of his three reviews.
The DWP’s response beggars belief:
A DWP spokesman said: “Suicide is a tragic and complex issue and there are often many reasons why someone takes their life, so to link it to one event is misleading.
How soon they forget. In this instance, they have forgotten the case of Stephanie Bottrill, who left a note clearly and emphatically blaming the government for her suicide. She was a victim of the Bedroom Tax, another Conservative Party Pogrom against the poor.
Here’s an extract from the note:
Does that seem misleading to you?
“Since this inquest took place under the previous Government we have made significant improvements to the Work Capability Assessment, including improving the process for people with mental health conditions.
Rachel Reeves: The coalition has distorted the benefit debate so much that 64 per cent of Labour voters think benefits should be cut – and she doesn’t have the backbone to correct them.
Here’s a question that gets asked very often in any debate on state benefits: “Isn’t it right that the taxpayer should only support people who really need it?”
The implication is that the government of the day is right to restrict benefit provision.
The answer, of course, is to point at some of the cases we have known, in which benefits have been taken away from people; cases like that of David Clapson, an ex-soldier who was sanctioned off of Jobseekers’ Allowance and died of diabetic ketoacidosis three weeks into the sanction period. When his body was found by a friend, his electricity card was out of credit, meaning the fridge where he kept the insulin he used to treat his diabetes was not working. A coroner found that when David died there was no food in his stomach. Was the government right to restrict his benefits? Or was this state-sponsored murder?
How about severely bipolar Sheila Holt, who recently died after spending months in a coma caused by a heart attack she suffered after being pushed onto the government’s slave-labour Work Programme? Even while she was comatose, the work programme provider – Seetec – was sending her letters about her suitability for employment. There is no doubt that the stress of being forced onto the Work Programme led to her death – in fact the government has apologised for its actions. It therefore seems redundant to ask the question, “Was the government right to restrict her benefits?” as we already know the answer.
How about Karen Sherlock, who was suffering from kidney failure when her Employment and Support Allowance was cut off by Iain Duncan Smith’s minions. She died, apparently of a heart attack, after an operation was cancelled. Was the government right to restrict her benefits?
How about Stephanie Bottrill, who took her own life by walking in front of a lorry on the M6, just one month after the Bedroom Tax had been introduced by Iain Duncan Smith. Her rent at the time was £320 per month, some of which was subsidised by Housing Benefit – but the imposition of an extra £80 charge, to come from her own money, was too much for her finances to take. She left a note to relatives in which she made clear that she had taken her own life – and that she blamed the government. Was the government right to restrict her benefits?
According to the last figures available to us (from 2011 – and related to ESA alone), four more people die as a result of the government’s benefit regime every three hours – more than 200 every week. These figures are, however, more than three years old; they do not encompass the rise in suicides that takes place in the run-up to Christmas every year and they pre-date the effects of Iain Duncan Smith’s homicidal Welfare Reform Act 2012.
Meanwhile, as Polly Toynbee has pointed out in her latest Guardianarticle, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary puts her foot in her mouth every time she talks about benefits. “She has the hardest shadow post, reconciling the party’s mission to stand with the underdog while facing a public fed by a stream of statistics-free anecdotes about welfare cheats,” writes Ms Toynbee.
That’s as may be, but she should be challenging those preconceptions, not conforming to them. “When last in power Labour failed to shift the enemy’s terms of engagement, hiding its own good actions behind tough talk,” writes Ms Toynbee.
“This mirrors too much Labour policy, foggy messages hiding agonised ambivalence – and voters smell out that inauthentic verbal triangulation.”
How true those words are. This writer was recently attacked by the shadow Welsh secretary, Owen Smith, for pointing out that he had confirmed, in his own words, that Labour would not speak out against the work capability assessment (that is responsible for three of the four deaths mentioned above) for fear of the right-wing press. This effectively means that his party is asking the sick and disabled to die for Labour’s election hopes.
Mr Smith threatened me with legal action after this blog put his words into plain English. He has since gone quiet, which is just as well. Not only has there been a national debate on the subject (of which Ms Toynbee’s article is just the latest part) but at least one reader has been able to confirm that my words were accurate, after a doorstep conversation with his own Labour candidate. Other readers are encouraged to do the same.
“On benefits, most voters are conflicted,” Ms Toynbee continues. “No one, least of all those working hard for very little, wants people cheating.” That is true. But then, 99.3 per cent of benefit claimants aren’t cheating at all. This government just treats them as if they are.
“Labour can’t win this internalised tussle by replicating it, but could earn credit by encouraging the nation’s better instincts,” writes Ms Toynbee.
The shame is that all the words coming from Labour suggest it will do the former, rather than the latter.
Stephanie Bottrill has become a symbol of Coalition Government failure. Wrongly charged Bedroom Tax (a Coalition cost-cutting measure) and unable to pay for food and heating, she committed suicide – and the government still failed to reach its fiscal targets.
Professor Simon Wren-Lewis is a terrific source of wisdom when it comes to macroeconomics, but sometimes it seems he loses track of why we mess around with money.
His latest Mainly Macro blog article begins with a claim that it is odd to criticise the policy of fiscal austerity, and at the same time complain that the government has failed to meet its own 2010 fiscal target. “It would be more logical to praise the government for abandoning its 2010 target,” he writes. “But politicians cannot resist criticising a missed target.”
What about the human cost, Professor?
People with mental illnesses have been forced off Employment and Support Allowance and onto Jobseekers’ Allowance, then sanctioned off of that benefit to meet government-imposed targets. We know of one such person who froze to death in the street – and the government still missed its 2010 fiscal target.
Another person – also with mental health problems – committed suicide after being sanctioned and was found, hanged, at the top of his stairs – and the government still missed its 2010 fiscal target.
What about the grandmother who committed suicide by walking in front of a lorry on the motorway, because she couldn’t afford the cost of living after the Bedroom Tax had been introduced? We later discovered that the charge had been wrongly imposed on her. The government had kept the money but still missed its 2010 fiscal target!
Perhaps Professor Wren-Lewis has made a good point by accident.
He is right to suggest that politicians are wrong to criticise the government for failing to meet its fiscal target – but only because they are doing so for the wrong reasons.
Maybe we should remind our MPs that, every time they attack the Coalition Government’s fiscal failures, they need to mention the many deaths that have been caused – deaths which Conservative ministers at the Treasury and the Department for Work and Pensions seem to regard as collateral damage or an occupational hazard.
Perhaps we should invite Professor Wren-Lewis to ensure he mentions these deaths in his own communications with the government – if and when he ever does so.
Please also share this with any politicians you believe would benefit from the information.
Victim of government persecution: A coroner has agreed that government pressure drove Stephanie Bottrill to suicide.
It’s official – stress and pressure caused by the Bedroom Tax pushed grandmother Stephanie Bottrill into taking her own life.
Zafar Siddique, coroner for Birmingham and Solihull, said he was “satisfied she intended to take her own life” after hearing evidence that Mrs Bottrill had blamed the government’s Bedroom Tax policy for pushing her to suicide in a note she left at her Meriden Drive, Kingshurst, home before walking across the M6 motorway into a collision with a lorry early on May 4, 2013.
The coroner also heard evidence from Dr Bindu Nair, who saw the former postal worker the day before her death after Mrs Bottrill’s daughter-in-law, concerned for her safety, made an appointment.
Dr Nair said Mrs Bottrill had “expressed unhappiness at being pushed by the housing department to make a decision, in half an hour, in reference to being made to move into a smaller property”.
He added that Ms Bottrill was “happy to move but it was the way in which she was forced to make a decision” which had caused her “considerable anxiety and stress”.
Unmentioned in the report is the fact that Mrs Bottrill was found to be exempt from the Bedroom Tax (also called the State Under-Occupation Charge) under the Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit (Consequential Provisions) Regulations 2006, because she had been living at her address since before January 1996.
The implications for the government are enormous.
A British court has accepted that a government policy pushed a UK citizen into ending her life.
Organisations including government departments are guilty of corporate manslaughter if the way in which their activities are managed or organised causes a person’s death, and amounts to a gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed by the organisation to the deceased.
An organisation is guilty of an offence if the way in which its activities are managed or organised by its senior management is a substantial element in the breach.
The pressure placed on Mrs Bottrill, according to the evidence of her own doctor, caused “considerable anxiety and stress” that contributed to her decision to commit suicide.
It seems clear that the Department for Work and Pensions – as the organisation responsible for both the Bedroom Tax and the pressure placed on Mrs Bottrill by housing officers – must now face criminal charges under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007.
As far as this blog is concerned, responsibility for this woman’s death lies firmly with Iain Duncan Smith.
Evil eyes: Esther McVey seems to get a perverse thrill from pretending her government’s policies are helping people; it is more likely they are driving the needy to despair and suicide.
Note to Iain Duncan Smith: It is not a good idea to try to inspire confidence in a £multi-billion “money pit” disaster by wheeling out Esther McVey to lie about it.
The woman dubbed “Fester McVile” by some commentators has accumulated a reputation so bad that the only way she can hide the metaphorical stink from the public is by associating with …Smith himself, in whose stench she seems almost fragrant. But not quite.
This is a woman who has lied to the public that it is impossible to carry out a cumulative assessment of the impact on the sick and disabled of the Coalition’s ‘final solution’ changes to the benefit system.
This is the woman who, in the face of public unrest about the prevalence of zero-hours contracts, announced that Job Centre advisors will now be able to force the unemployed into taking this exploitative work.
She has previously misled Parliament over the loophole in Bedroom Tax legislation that meant the government had removed Housing Benefit from thousands of people who were exempt from the measure – including Stephanie Bottrill, whose suicide has been attributed to the pressure of having to survive on less because of the tax. Asked how many people had been affected by the loophole, McVey played it down by claiming she did not know the answer, while other ministers suggested between 3,000 and 5,000. In fact, from Freedom of Information requests to which just one-third of councils responded, 16,000 cases were revealed.
Mark Hoban stood in for McVey to trot out the lie that independent reviews of the Work Capability Assessment had identified areas of improvement on which the government was acting. In fact, out of 25 recommendations in the Year One review alone, almost two-thirds were not fully and successfully implemented.
In a debate on food banks, McVey’s lies came thick and fast: She accused the previous Labour government of a “whirl of living beyond our means” that “had to come to a stop” without ever pausing to admit that it was Tory-voting bankers who had been living beyond their means, who caused the crash, and who are still living beyond their means today, because her corporatist (thank you, Zac Goldsmith) Conservative government has protected them.
She accused Labour of trying to keep food banks as “its little secret”, forcing Labour’s Jim Cunningham to remind us all that food banks were set up by churches to help refugees who were waiting for their asylum status to be confirmed – not as a support system for British citizens, as they have become under the Coalition’s failed regime.
She said the Coalition government was brought in to “solve the mess that Labour got us in”, which is not true – it was born from a backroom deal between two of the most unscrupulous party leaders of recent times, in order to ensure they and their friends could get their noses into the money trough (oh yes, there’s plenty of money around – but this government is keeping it away from you).
She said the Coalition had got more people into work than ever before – without commenting on the fact that the jobs are part-time, zero-hours, self-employed contracts that benefit the employers but exploit the workers and in fact propel them towards poverty.
She lied to Parliament, claiming that children are three times more likely to be in poverty if they are in a workless household. In fact, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, in-work poverty has now outstripped that suffered by those in workless and retired households; children are more likely to be in poverty if their parents have jobs.
She attacked Labour for allowing five million people to be on out-of-work benefits, with two million children in workless households – but under her government the number of households suffering in-work poverty has risen to eight million (by 2008 standards), while workless or retired households in poverty have risen to total 6.3 million.
She claimed that 60,000 people were likely to use a food bank this year – but Labour’s Paul Murphy pointed out that 60,000 people will use food banks this year in Wales alone. The actual figure for the whole of the UK is 500,000.
She said the Coalition’s tax cuts had given people an extra £700 per year, without recognising that the real-terms drop in wages and rise in the cost of living means people will be £1,600 a year worse-off when the next general election takes place, tax cuts included. She said stopping fuel price increases meant families were £300 better-off, which is nonsense. Families cannot become better off because something has not happened; it’s like saying I’m better off because the roof of my house hasn’t fallen in and squashed me.
Her talents won exactly the recognition they deserved when her Wikipedia entry was altered to describe her as “the Assistant Grim Reaper for Disabled People since 2012, second only to Iain Duncan Smith. She was previously a television presenter and businesswoman before deciding to branch out into professional lying and helping disabled people into the grave.”
In her food bank speech, she also said the government had brought in Universal Credit to ensure that three million people become better-off. There’s just one problem with that system – it doesn’t work.
Standing in the shadow of a giant: Vox Political’s Mike Sivier (front) at ‘Cooper Corner’, with Caerphilly Castle in the background.
Vox Political was relatively quiet yesterday; although I reblogged plenty of articles from other sources, there was no new piece from the site itself because I was in Caerphilly, delivering a speech at a Bedroom Tax protest there.
Caerphilly is the birthplace of the late, great comic Tommy Cooper, and it was in the shadow of his statue that the demonstration took place. I instantly (and privately) named the location ‘Cooper Corner’.
I took the opportunity to lighten proceedings at the start by suggesting that Mr Cooper (albeit in petrified effigy) would be providing the jokes. I held the microphone up towards the statue. “Anything? No? No. I didn’t think so.” Turning back to the crowd I added: “The Bedroom Tax is no laughing matter.” Then I got into the body of the speech:
“I write a small blog called Vox Political. I started it a couple of years ago as an attempt to put in writing what a reasonable, thinking person might have to say about government policies in these years of forced austerity, and politics in general.
“As you can probably imagine, this means I knew about the Bedroom Tax, several months before it was actually imposed on us all. I was writing articles warning people against it from October 2012. The trouble was, Vox Political is a small blog that even now has only a few thousand readers a day – and the mainstream media has been almost entirely bought by a political machine with far more funding than I have.
“It is a tax, by the way. You may have heard a lot of nonsense that it isn’t, but consider it this way: a tax is defined as a compulsory contribution to state revenue, levied by the government against a citizen’s person, property or activity, to support government policies.
“It is not a ‘spare-room subsidy’. If anyone in authority tries to tell you you’re having your ‘spare-room subsidy’ removed (or more likely, imposed, they’re so confused about this), just tell them to go and find the Act of Parliament that introduced the ‘spare room subsidy’, using those words. Tell them if they can find it, you’ll pay it – but if they can’t, they must not take any money away from you. They won’t be able to find it because it doesn’t exist.
“It is more accurately described as the ‘State Underoccupation Charge’ – SUC! And it really does suck.
“It sucks money that social housing tenants need for food, heat, water and other necessities out of their pockets and forces them to send it to their landlord instead – either the local council or a social landlord like a housing association. The reasoning behind it has always been that this would encourage people to move, but in fact we know that there is no social accommodation for them to move into. When the Bedroom Tax became law, there was only enough smaller housing to accommodate around 15 per cent of the affected households. It is clearly a trap, designed to make poor people poorer.
“This is why the first advice I put on my blog was for anyone affected by the Bedroom Tax to appeal against it – and I was criticised quite harshly for it, because some people decided such action would mark tenants out as troublemakers and create more problems for them. At the time, I thought it was right to give some of the aggravation back to the people who were foisting this additional burden onto lower-income families; make them work for it, if they want it so badly. As it turns out, I was right to do so, because there are so many loopholes in the legislation that it seems almost anybody could avoid paying!
“Do you think Stephanie Bottrill would have died if she had known that she could successfully appeal against her Bedroom Tax, on the grounds that she had been a social housing tenant since before January 1996 and was therefore exempt? The government spitefully closed that particular loophole earlier this month, but that lady is already dead, due to a lie. Had she been properly informed, she could have successfully fought it off and then taken advice on how to cope with it after the government amendment was brought in.
“There is a case for corporate manslaughter against the Department for Work and Pensions, right there. If tested in court, it seems likely that the way its activities have been managed and organised by senior management – the fact that it foisted the Bedroom Tax, wrongly, on this lady – will be found to have led to her death, in gross breach of its duty of care to those who claim state benefits (in this case, Housing Benefit).
“David Cameron has wasted a great deal of oxygen telling us all that disabled people are not affected by the tax. Perhaps he could explain why a disabled gentleman in my home town was forced to move out of his specially-adapted home, incurring not only the cost of moving but an extra £5,000 for removing the adaptations and installing them into new accommodation? He appealed against Bedroom Tax decision but the result came back after the date when he had to be out of his home. Can you guess what it was? That’s right – he won. I have been trying to get him to take legal action against the council and the government about this as it would be an important test case.
“It includes a study, a utility room, a play room, even an Iain Duncan Smith voodoo doll-making room, if that takes your fancy!
“I was particularly happy to hear that you can have a study as I’ve been writing my blog from the broom cupboard – oh! That’s another room you can have!
“Check the DWP’s online forms. They ask about bedrooms, and then they ask about other rooms. The distinction is clear.”
Then I closed the speech. In retrospect, I should have finished with a few words about the fact that this was the first bit of public speaking I had ever done. I could have given them something along these lines: “I am aware that speech-making is a lucrative sideline for many people, including comedians (although I’m not aware that Mr Cooper ever made any) and also politicians. Perhaps I should use this platform to suggest that, if you know anybody who is considering booking a speaker for a special occasion – society dinner, rugby club social, wedding or party, why not ask them to get in touch with me – instead of Iain Duncan Smith!”
Vox Political stands up in public to make its point
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Everybody should know by now that British citizen Mark Wood starved to death four months after a medical assessment by Atos found him fit for work, even though it was only reported widely yesterday.
The ruling on the 44-year-old was made against the advice of his GP and in the knowledge that Mr Wood – who lived in David Cameron’s Witney constituency – had mental health conditions including phobias of food and social situations. He weighed just 5st 8lbs when he died in August last year.
His GP, Nicolas Ward, told an inquest into Mr Wood’s death: “Something pushed him or affected him in the time before he died and the only thing I can put my finger on is the pressure he felt he was under when his benefits were removed.”
In a normal society operating under the rule of law, that should be enough to trigger a halt on all work capability assessment medical tests while the entire system is examined with a view to preventing further harm. This was discussed in Parliament last week (read my live blog) but because this was a backbench motion the government has insisted that it only needs to take the unanimous vote in favour of the move as “advisory” – and has done nothing.
That is not good enough for many of us. Samuel Miller, the campaigner who has been trying to bring UK government discrimination against the disabled to the attention of international organisations like the United Nations has already signalled that he will be demanding action.
On Twitter yesterday (February 28), he wrote: “I’ll inform the UN’s human rights office… as well as write the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP); a corporate manslaughter investigation into Atos and the DWP needs to be opened.
“I’ll also file a criminal complaint against Atos and the DWP with Britain’s Metropolitan Police Service.”
Mr Miller has also been awaiting a ruling from the Information Commissioner on his Freedom of Information request from November 6, 2012, demanding details of post-November 2011 Incapacity Benefit and Employment and Support Allowance claimant mortality statistics. The Commission called on the Department for Work and Pensions to come up with a valid reason for its refusal, under the FoI Act and the DWP has failed to provide one so far.
For Mr Miller, the situation has now dragged on far too long. “I’m not going to wait for a ruling from the Information Commissioner’s Office, which I’m unlikely to win. Due to the tragic starvation death of Mark Wood, I’m going to request that the UN’s human rights office obtain a subpoena from the International Criminal Court prosecutor, requiring that the Department for Work and Pensions release the post-November 2011 IB and ESA claimant mortality statistics that I requested on November 6, 2012.”
He is also awaiting the findings of an inquest into the death of Stephanie Bottrill, the Bedroom Tax victim who died when she walked in front of a lorry on a busy motorway, after leaving a note blaming the government. That hearing has not yet taken place.
Samuel Miller has cerebral palsy and lives in Canada, and yet he is willing to do all this to correct injustice in the UK. He puts most of us to shame.
Of course, I am looking forward to my tribunal hearing, in which I hope to trigger the release of those post-November 2011 IB and ESA claimant mortality statistics. If Mr Miller manages it first, then my hearing will focus on why my request for the information was dismissed as “vexatious”, as this has serious implications for any future Freedom of Information requests.
I’d like to hear from others who are doing something about this – even if it only comes down to contacting their MP.
Or do you think this man’s death should be in vain?
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Ian Lavery launched his ambitious Bill to abolish the Bedroom Tax yesterday. [Image: Daily Mirror]
Make no mistake about it – the purpose of the legislation tabled yesterday (Wednesday) by Labour’s Ian Lavery is to discover how many Liberal Democrat MPs are redeemable and how many have been irreversibly corrupted by their current alliance with the Conservatives.
The Bill to abolish the hated Bedroom Tax is unlikely to gain Royal Assent unless Liberal Democrats who supported the imposition of the Bedroom Tax reverse their point of view. There is even the possibility that some Conservatives may now realise that they, as Mr Lavery put it, “underestimated the real consequences of walking through the Government Lobby to support the introduction”. He also said: “It is an olive branch… I would hope that my Bill would receive support from members in all parties.”
MPs voted almost unanimously for the Bill to be brought in, with 226 votes in favour and only one against – but readers of this blog will be familiar with the fact that this happened with Michael Meacher’s motion for a commission of inquiry into the impact of social security changes on poverty. The House approved; the government did nothing.
So don’t get your hopes up too high.
Mr Lavery was the only person to speak on the subject, and his words are well worth noting here.
“The full and sole intention of this Bill is to sweep away the dreaded bedroom tax,” he said.
“It seeks to restore justice for up to 660,000 people — some of our country’s most vulnerable citizens, two-thirds of whom are disabled. They have been inhumanely let down by the Government’s reforms to housing benefit in the social sector. The tax has caused heartache and devastation to thousands of residents up and down this country. It is a tax whose forced implementation has put extreme pressure on councils, housing associations and social landlords. It is a tax that has put extreme pressure on the ordinary working people who are forced to deal with those unable to move and those unable to pay.
“On the introduction of the tax, Ministers argued that the changes would encourage people to downsize to smaller properties and, in doing so, help to cut the £23 billion annual bill for housing benefit; would free up living space for overcrowded families; and would encourage people to get jobs. Significantly, it has achieved none of those objectives.
“At the same time, the Department for Work and Pensions has trumpeted the measure as ‘returning fairness to housing benefit’. The words ‘fairness’ and ‘bedroom tax’ should not be uttered in the same sentence.”
He said: “This tax is a problem in each and every constituency up and down the country; this is not simply a problem in Labour-dominated authorities. I was contacted only last week by a distraught resident from the Tory shires who is hoping that my Bill will be successful, because he, a disabled man, is living in a three-bedroom property and has just received an eviction notice for bedroom tax arrears. He is not alone. The bedroom tax sufferers in Liberal Democrat and Tory constituencies number around 250,000. Perhaps we should ask them whether they think this abominable tax has restored fairness to housing benefit.”
Mr Lavery said his Bill seeks “to restore fairness and to end the misery that the bedroom tax has caused”. He said there are hundreds, if not thousands, of “appalling” examples of suffering, mentioning (but not naming) mother-of-two Stephanie Bottrill, a woman suffering a crippling illness who committed suicide after realising that she could not pay the bedroom tax. Her family received correspondence later saying that she should have been exempt from the charge.
He also mentioned a case he said was “hard to comprehend; it really is difficult to try to get to grips with”. He said: “The family of the 1999 child of courage, who spent years battling multiple cancers, is suffering at the hands of this horrible reform. These people are not living a life of luxury in palatial properties; they are living in a place in which they feel safe and which they call home. It is time to listen. I am sure that most fair-minded individuals would agree that a bedroom is not spare when carers sleep in it, when couples use it because one of them has health problems and they cannot share a bed, or when it houses vital medical equipment, yet this indiscriminate tax deems it so.
“The reality is that yet another measure introduced by this Government is in total and utter chaos. It lies in tatters, with the victims left to pick up the pieces. As thousands suffer, there is a real risk that the bedroom tax will end up costing more than it saves. The National Housing Federation has said that the savings claimed by the Government are ‘highly questionable’, partly because those who are forced to move to the private rented sector will end up costing more in housing benefit.
“Surely, as politicians and members of the general public, we are entitled to question the motives behind the introduction of the bedroom tax. The tax does not deal with the problem of under-occupation. In fact, the Government’s costings on the yield raised from the bedroom tax explicitly assume that people will not move into smaller properties. There are simply not enough smaller properties for people to move into.
“Some 180,000 households were deemed to be under-occupying two-bedroom homes, yet only 85,000 one-bedroom homes became available during the whole of 2012. The savings projections of the Department for Work and Pensions assume that not one of the 660,000 households affected would respond to the policy by moving to a smaller home. Put simply, this is yet another example of the Government balancing the books on the backs of the disabled and the vulnerable. The tax must be scrapped now.
“Housing associations say that tens of millions of pounds are likely to be lost through the build-up of arrears. Reports this morning estimate that 144,000 people have fallen behind with their rents since the introduction of the bedroom tax and that 14 per cent have received eviction notices [20,160].
“Was that really meant to happen? Was this eviction of the poor really the plan of the Government?
“In October, research by the University of York, which was based on data by the housing associations that have tenants affected by the bedroom tax, suggested that the policy could save up to 39 per cent less than the DWP had predicted. In the past week, it has emerged that more than half of the £500 million that the Government claim will be saved by the hated tax will be spent on re-housing disabled people. These are vulnerable people who already live in properties that have been adapted for their needs and who have built up local support networks with their friends, family and neighbours. The future for them lies in communities that are unknown and foreign to them. They have been cast out like the proverbial dog in the night.”
Interrupted when he mentioned the loophole that exempted Stephanie Bottrill from paying the bedroom tax – another member said that the loophole had been closed – Mr Lavery continued: “As Ministers scramble to mop up the mistakes, another challenge to the hated tax has arisen. A judge has overturned the tax in the case of a Rochdale man who argued that one of his bedrooms was used as a dining room. The appeal was upheld on the basis that the dictionary definition of a bedroom is a room that contains a bed that is used for sleeping in. An avalanche of appeals is on its way.
“I am proud to see that, only last week, the Scottish Labour party shamed the Scottish National party into abolishing the bedroom tax. I must put it on the record that I am also proud that one of the first acts of a future Labour Government will be to end this full frontal attack on the vulnerable. However, we cannot afford to wait until the general election of 2015. I urge the supporters of this tax to think again.
“The question is this: Are they happy to see the misery and social disruption of the vulnerable and disabled? I began this speech by expressing the view that those who voted in favour of introducing this dreaded bedroom tax may have underestimated the human suffering that it would cause. That is no longer in any doubt, so I urge them all to do the honourable thing and support my Bill.”
That really is the question for members of the public to consider, along with MPs. If your MP votes against Mr Lavery’s Bill, then you will know that they are, indeed, happy to inflict misery and disruption on the vulnerable and disabled.
Do you want to live in a country where people like that are allowed to rule?
Make no mistake: This legislation is unlikely to succeed without support from people who previously helped bring the Bedroom Tax into law. As such, it might not work.
But this is also legislation that should help you decide how you will vote in May next year.
We can hope that our MPs – and you yourself, dear reader – choose wisely.
The Bill will have its second reading on February 28.
Labour’s Chris Bryant took the opportunity afforded by Mr Lavery’s motion to bring a point of order – that Iain Duncan Smith, Esther McVey and Lord Freud had been using false statistics. He said: “Earlier this year, when asked how many people had been affected by the loophole in the bedroom tax legislation, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions… said that the number was between 3,000 and 5,000. In a written answer, the Minister of State… (Esther McVey)… said that she did not know how many had been affected. Lord Freud, a Minister in another place, said that it was an insignificant number. Today, however, he told the Work and Pensions Committee of this House that the number was 5,000.
“We have been doing their work for them, and from Freedom of Information requests to local authorities in England, Wales and Scotland, we already know, from just the third that replied, of 16,000 cases.”
Debbie Abrahams, a member of the Work and Pensions committee to whom Lord Freud provided the false figure, said committee members will be pursuing the matter.
It’s what we all feared, as soon as we found out that people who have been in the same social housing since before 1996 are exempt from the Bedroom Tax:
Stephanie Bottrill, the grandmother who committed suicide because she could not afford to pay the Bedroom Tax, was one of those who should never have been asked to pay.
She took her own life by walking in front of a lorry on the M6 in May last year, just one month after the Bedroom Tax – sometimes called the State Under-Occupation Charge – had been introduced by Iain Duncan Smith. Her rent at the time was £320 per month, some of which was subsidised by Housing Benefit – but the imposition of an extra £80 charge, to come from her own money, was too much for her finances to take.
She left a note to relatives in which she made clear that she had taken her own life – and that she blamed the government.
She had lived in the same Solihull house for the previous 18 years (since 1995). Recent revelations by Joe Halewood at SPeyehave shown that this meant she was exempt from paying the charge under the Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit (Consequential Provisions) Regulations 2006.
The government has a duty of care in these matters. It may not impose charges on people who are exempt under legislation that is currently in force, nor may it demand that local authorities should do so. If a person dies as a result of such action, then the government is guilty of a very specific criminal offence.
According to the Crown Prosecution Service, an organisation is guilty of corporate manslaughter if the way in which its activities are managed or organised causes a person’s death; and amounts to a gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed by the organisation to the deceased.
An organisation is guilty of an offence if the way in which its activities are managed or organised by its senior management is a substantial element in the breach.
It seems clear – from the suicide note at the very least – that this is an open-and-shut case.
Will we soon see Iain Duncan Smith – or better still, David Cameron – in court?
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The relevant part is on pages 32 and 33 of the PDF file, and schedule 3 (4) (3) (b) (ii) states that a break of up to 4 weeks in the continuous period is allowed.
Many people have seen this as a considerable victory, as it may affect a large proportion of the 660,000 households hit by the spiteful tax. Everyone who has lost money because of it has been urged to check whether they can appeal on these grounds.
Now here’s the bad news: You have to have proof that you have been in receipt of HB since before January 1, 1996, or the authorities will ignore any exemption request.
Or, as a Vox Political commenter put it: “Just been on to HB as we should be free of this bedroom tax and they just told us we need proof of being here since this time scale which after all these years we don’t. And they said their records only go back six years. My God, they just won’t have it, will they? So stuck again as no proof as housing and DHSS don’t go back to 1/jan 1996.”
How many others are in the same situation?
Worse still, look at this comment from a DWP spokesman, published in the Morning Star‘s coverage of the story: “”We are aware of a potential regulatory issue in relation to pre-1996 social sector housing benefit tenants and the removal of the spare room subsidy,
“We are looking at this carefully and will take any necessary action to clarify our position as soon as possible.”
We all know what a DWP clarification is; it’s legislation to ensure that the regulation is removed – in order to ensure that the cock-up is erased from history and there continues to be no obstacle to Iain Duncan Smith’s plan for the impoverishment of the masses.
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