Couple’s deaths linked to disability benefits struggle


A disabled woman and her husband who have been found dead in their house had spoken publicly of their struggle to obtain the benefits they needed to survive.

The bodies of the couple – who have not yet been named by police – were discovered last week lying side by side at their home in Bedworth, Warwickshire.

Local media reported that the couple had died through an “apparent tragic suicide pact”.

Last winter, they were interviewed on camera about their financial struggles and how they were forced to walk more than five miles to and from a soup kitchen in Coventry every week to pick up a food parcel of vegetables and bread.

The husband told how they used the vegetables to make a soup, which was often the only food they could afford. They had no fridge, and so kept the vegetables in a shed in the garden, and lived in just one room of their house to keep their heating bills down.

He told how he had “lost count of the appeals” they had been forced to undergo to obtain disability benefits for his wife, who had learning difficulties.

He added: “They have no problems suspending benefits. It’s not an issue for them because they put a tick in a box or a stroke across a piece of paper but they alter your lives, which is fundamentally unfair but it’s either those who have the power to do it to you and those of us who don’t have the power to resist it.”

Linda Burnip, a disabled activist and a member and former trustee of the Council of Disabled People Coventry and Warwickshire, said the deaths were “really, really sad” and that “people shouldn’t fall through the net like that in this day and age”.

She said the problems faced by the couple showed the importance of good quality advocacy services run by disabled people, with neither Coventry City Council nor Warwickshire County Council apparently providing any funding for user-led advocacy services.

She said she feared that more disabled people would face such extreme financial problems because of the government’s brutal spending cuts. “I think it’s probably an indication of what is going to happen to a lot of people. They are going to have to end up walking miles to get food parcels.”

She said she also feared that budget cuts affecting social care funding and advocacy services for disabled people in Warwickshire “may well have been one of the main factors contributing to this tragedy”, while it was “very difficult” to understand how the couple could have been “left for so long without being able to get the correct amount of benefits they should have been entitled to”.

A Coventry City Council spokesman confirmed that they did not provide any funding for advocacy services run by disabled people’s organisations.

Warwickshire County Council was unable to confirm that it does not fund any user-led advocacy services.

A Warwickshire police spokeswoman said they were “not looking for anyone else in connection with the deaths”, which were being treated as “unexplained”.

A post-mortem on the couple proved inconclusive and police are now awaiting the results of toxicology tests.

10 November 2011

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