A tragedy, but one with a reason. Let Jenni Russell take up the story.
Christelle fitted no stereotype. She was a 32-year-old Frenchwoman living in Hackney who had lived in Britain since she and her sister moved here in 1997. In May 2008 she graduated from London's Metropolitan University with a degree in philosophy. At about the same time she discovered she was pregnant. She looked for work while claiming jobseeker's allowance and housing benefit. Then in December 2008, the advisers at the jobcentre told her she no longer qualified for jobseeker's allowance. According to the Department for Work and Pensions the fact that she was within 11 weeks of giving birth disqualified her from being an active jobseeker. She was told to apply for income support instead.
What no one warned her was that European nationals who claim income support must provide more proof of residence than jobseekers have to. All a jobseeker needs do is show they are looking for work. Income support is only given if the claimant can prove that for the previous five years they have been either in work, searching for work, studying, or self-sufficient. Christelle had an eight-month period in 2003 when she said she had been working in a cafe but had no employment records to prove it. Her claim was turned down.
Once that happened, the welfare state stopped operating. Her housing benefit was automatically withdrawn. The state, having decreed she was not in a fit condition to look for work, took no further interest in how the penniless mother of a new baby was going to survive.
This is how it ends. All the endless measures aimed at tightening the rules on claimants and foreigners in an attempt to appease the supposed, and probably fictional, atavistic appetites of the electorate, all the cosying up to the the editors of the right wing press, all the creation of increasingly labyrinthine bureaucratic rules, they all result in two broken bodies lying on a Hackney pavement.
And now we turn to the 'coup' that failed - the last ditch attempt to oust the Prime Minister. I may have missed it, but I can't recall any debate about what the Labour Party should be and what would change under a new leader. Was there a discussion of alternative ideas, philosophies and policies? Was there any mention of how to create a better Britain, one forged from the best traditions of the Labour movement, one that would not lead someone to choose death over destitution? Not as far as I could see. Instead all the talk was of who would be most likely to win an election, of who is in and who is out, of factions and intrigues.
Court politics. That is what we are left with, court politics.
Jenni Russell concluded,
I don't believe this is a stance a civilised society can justify. It pitches foreign-born mothers back into a Victorian-style existence in which pregnancy may mean destitution and disgrace.
I agree. And as the ghastly prospect of a prolonged election campaign, dripping with platitudes, looms, don't expect to hear anything about the suicide of a young mother and how we should ensure that something as grotesquely tragic never happens again. It wouldn't do to disturb the formulaic answers and sloganising with the lives and deaths of real people. Would it?