An inquest has heard that Frances McCormack, a 53-year-old school cook, had been hounded for bedroom tax payments since the tragic suicide of her 16-year-old son, Jack Allen, in 2013. A handwritten note, dated 10 days before her death, was found in her bedroom, part of which was addressed to David Cameron, outlining the hardships and distress that the Bedroom Tax was causing her.
Ms McCormack’s body was discovered by her close friend Natalie Richardson at her home in Maltby, near Rotherham.
An eviction notice was served on Ms McCormack the day before her body was discovered, the court heard.
Frances McCormack had been helping Rotherham Council with its suicide prevention work following the tragic suicides of an increasing number of local young people.
Her ex-husband Jimmy Allen said after the inquest: “She was a strong-willed woman and a good, loving mother. This was a totally unseen body blow to the family.”
Close friend Natalie Richardson told the Doncaster inquest: “Frances had spoken to me previously about the property.
“She wanted to buy into it, it was where the three boys were raised and where Jack took his last breaths, ate his last meal and spoke his last words.
“She was a very strong woman, very strong minded. I felt she was getting a lot better with herself. She had decided to go out a bit more, she had started going to the gym, she was very focused and always had something to do.
“She never gave me any kind of inkling and was strong for me when my partner passed away. She was my rock.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “Our sympathies are with the family of Ms McCormack. This is a tragic and complex issue and it would be misleading to link it to one cause.”
The cause of Frances McCormack’s suicide was the distressing impact of a cruel and punitive policy that is intentionally designed to target our poorest and most vulnerable citizens. Frances was already vulnerable because she was grieving her son. But she was also bravely supporting others, in her contributions to suicide prevention work. It must have been profoundly distressing to receive notice that she was to be forced out of her family home.
How many more suicides will it take before this souless, indifferent government recognise the all too often devastating consequences of their “reforms” and engage with citizens, honestly and openly investigating their accounts, and those of campaigners, academics and professionals? There is an established correlation between Conservative austerity cuts and an increase in suicides and deaths that demands urgent investigation.
Surely what is needed, instead of a wall of oppressive political denial, is a democratically accountable impact assessment of the Conservative’s draconian and ideologically-driven policies. Denying other people’s experiences of inflicted political cruelty is the hallmark of Despotism. It’s not the behaviour one would expect from an elected government in a first-world liberal democracy.
Recent research by Iain Duncan Smith’s own department showed 78% of bedroom tax victims were penniless by the month’s end and at least half had to turn down their heating.
The study report was released on December 17 – the very last day of parliament before the Christmas break.
The Labour Party have confirmed the report was received by the Department for Work and Pensions on December 8 and signed off completely for publication on December 11.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman insisted it was standard practice for there to be a week’s delay between reports being received and published online.
But the shadow work and pensions secretary Owen Smith said:
“The Tories are right to be ashamed about a report showing the Bedroom Tax is driving people deeper and deeper in to poverty.
“Iain Duncan Smith should show some decency, by being honest about the damage his hated policy is causing. Then listen to Labour’s calls to scrap the Bedroom Tax at once.”
The government released 36 ministerial statements – compared to three or four on an average day – in a mountain of information on the last day of Parliament before Christmas. Anyone would think the Conservatives want to avoid any democratic scrutiny or accountability.
Alison Garnham of the Child Poverty Action Group said:
“The DWP’s own evaluation finds the ‘bedroom tax’ is not only pushing families into hardship but it’s also failing to free up more accommodation for families – the key argument ministers used to justify this controversial policy.
“This is a long and deep look at a hugely controversial policy – it really should not have been released just as MPs rise for Christmas.”
Department for Work and Pensions sources maintain that the bedroom tax is “fair”, claiming that it was “wrong” that “taxpayers had to “subsidise” benefit claimants to live in houses that are “larger than they require.”
However, most benefit claimants have actually worked or are working in low paid jobs, and have therefore contributed to their own provision.
It would be far more reasonable, credible and valid to object to the “taxpayer” having to subsidise big businesses who are avoiding paying their taxes. The public are paying for a grotesquely greedy level of bonuses and multimillion figure salaries awarded to incompetent private sector CEOs. Only a quarter of government revenue comes from income tax, with much of the rest coming from national insurance and indirect taxes such as VAT, paid by the population as a whole, including by those people needing social security. But tax avoidance is widespread amongst much of the corporate and wealthy elite that benefits so much from state handouts. There’s a real “culture of entitlement” that the Conservatives happily endorse. And it is costing us far more than the welfare state, established for those in need, after the war.
In the Conservative benefit-cutting climate of austerity Britain, one of the wealthiest nations of the world, disability charities have reported that the despicable scapegoating “scrounger” rhetoric has provoked a significant surge in abuse and hate crime towards disabled people. But the behaviour of state-funded private contractors such as G4S and Atos must surely raise the question of who the “scroungers” really are.
In April 2014, Atos was forced to abandon their contract with the government because of a growing backlash, but not before they had syphoned off very large sums of public money. Meanwhile, sick and disabled people have had their support brutally slashed to the bone, people have died as a consequence of that. Yet our welfare state is being used as a sporting arena for big business profit-making, eating up public funds that were supposed to help people who have encountered difficulties meeting their basic needs through losing their job or becoming ill. Now there is a cause for public and political outrage.
The selling of our public services and lucrative contracting out of state functions to private companies who exchange public money for a notoriously poor service is a prominent feature of Tory “small state” Britain. Tax-funded corporate welfare has never been more generous. Another such woefully inept business is A4e, a welfare-to-work company dogged by controversy over poor performance and corruption. Former chairman Emma Harrison paid herself £8.6m in dividends, all courtesy of the taxpayer. In February 2014, four former A4e employees admitted committing acts of fraud and forgery after charging the state for working for clients that did not even exist.
The Conservative’s draconian policies, which they claim were intended to “solve” Britain’s housing crisis, have done nothing but actually make it worse. The Tories have overseen the withdrawal of the right to lifetime tenancies, introduced a dubious “help to buy” guarantee that further inflates housing costs and they have imposed an arbitrary benefits cap, applied indiscriminately whatever a family’s size or needs, which will see an exodus of poorer people, effectively bringing about a “social cleansing” of the capital and other major cities.
Few groups have suffered more than disabled people from this government’s five years in office. Though the human rights of women and children have also been violated by this government’s grinding and unrelentlessly discriminatory legislative machine.
I wrote earlier about the grave concerns regarding the impact of the next round of proposed housing benefit cuts on the most vulnerable social groups from within the housing sector. A specialist housing association has warned that people under the age of 35 in mental health accommodation face rent shortfalls of almost £200 a week under government plans to cap housing benefit for social housing tenants at Local Housing Allowance rates. Financial modelling shows that at least 95 per cent of supported housing providers would be forced to evict their tenants if the government succeeds in slashing housing benefits.
Capping benefits at the level of Local Housing Allowance (LHA), the council-administered benefit for people in the private rented sector, would affect almost everyone in supported housing.
Every single Tory austerity measure targets the most vulnerable and those citizens with the very least to lose, and not “those with the broadest shoulders,” as Cameron claimed would be the case in 2010.
Charities, mental health professionals, campaigners and researchers have warned the government that austerity cuts are causing mental distress and are linked to rise in suicides. Research published in September 2015 by Mind, the UK’s largest mental health charity, reported that for people with mental health problems, the Government’s flagship back-to-work scheme, the Work Programme, made their distress worse in 83 per cent of cases.
A letter, published before the 2015 election, signed by 442 professionals ranging from psychologists to epidemiologists, stated:
“The past five years have seen a radical shift in the kinds of issues generating distress in our clients: increasing inequality and outright poverty, families forced to move against their wishes, and, perhaps most important, benefits claimants (including disabled and ill people) and those seeking work being subjected to a quite new, intimidatory kind of disciplinary regime.”
Psychologists Against Austerity, an alliance of mental health professionals, formed with the aim of directly challenging the cuts and welfare changes that they said were adding to mental distress. The group produced a briefing paper that includes five “austerity ailments” that contribute to worsening mental distress and despair. These are: humiliation and shame, instability and insecurity, isolation and loneliness, being trapped or feeling powerless, and fear and distrust.
The government continue to deny any “causal link” between their draconian policies and an increase in suicide, refusing to carry out an investigation into the impacts of their callous legislative authoritarianism that not only treats our poorest and most vulnerable citizens with disgusting contempt, but also systematically and shamefully contravenes their human rights.