Only the little people pay bedroom taxes  On trial for tax evasion in 1989, New York billionaire Leona Helmsley aka ‘the Queen of Mean’, was famously said to have told her housekeeper: ‘we don’t pay taxes, only the little people….’ More than 20 years later, Stephanie Bottrill (53) was one of the ‘little people’ in line to pay the new Coalition ‘tax’ on unoccupied bedrooms.

The small terraced house in Meriden Road, Solihull, where Bottrill had brought up her two children on ‘state handouts’, was judged too big for her solitary needs; and she was required either to accept alternative accommodation or pay back £80 a month from her benefit. Instead, in the early hours of Saturday 4th May, she walked on to the carriageway of the nearby M6 and was killed outright by an oncoming lorry.

Bottrill and Helmsley, who died of heart failure in 2007, had similar hair – cut short, then growing out thick and bushy (Sheena Easton meets Bonnie Tyler), but there the resemblance ends. Helmsley’s wealth has been estimated at $8 billion – that’s how much she counted for. Whereas Bottrill spent most of her life being discounted: diagnosed from childhood with myasthenia gravis (immune system deficiency), but this did not count as ‘disability’; living in the less well-off part of an otherwise prosperous Birmingham suburb – the bit that does not count as well-heeled Solihull. Not considered important enough for the education system to ensure she could spell (in her suicide note, she invites her son, HGV driver Stephen, to blame ‘the Grovement’).

Stephanie Bottrill died a small, sad death having lived a marginal life. But society (yes, Mrs T, there is…) only cheapens itself by discounting the little people like her.