Author's suicide 'due to slash in benefits'

FRIENDS of an acclaimed Scottish writer have accused the new government's crackdown on welfare benefits of being a factor in his suicide.

Paul Reekie, who, along with Irvine Welsh, was part of a wave of young Scottish authors who rose to international prominence in the 1990s, killed himself in his Edinburgh home last month.

The Leith-based writer and poet, who was 48, left no suicide note but friends say letters informing him that his welfare benefits were to be halted were found close to his body.

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Reekie's former publisher Kevin Williamson believes the actions of Chancellor George Osborne, who has introduced unprecedented measures to slash Britain's welfare bill, helped to push his close friend and literary collaborator towards taking his own life.

The founder of the Rebel Inc publishing label has sent a strongly worded letter to Osborne, linking his policies to Reekie's death.

The letter states: "It has come to my attention that while many of my friends and I were at the funeral of our good friend Paul Reekie, aged 48, it would appear that you were giving a speech in Parliament announcing your intentions to slash the benefits paid to the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.

"I thought I would let you know that Paul took his own life. He didn't leave a note but he laid out two letters on his table. One was notifying him that his housing benefit had been stopped. The other was notifying him that his incapacity benefit had been stopped.

"The reason I'm writing this letter is just so you know the human cost of attacking those on benefits."

Williamson, who published Reekie's novella, Submission, in the best-selling 1996 anthology Children of Albion Rovers, said: "The letter will be binned and forgotten, but there will be loads more folk in Paul's shoes over the coming years trying to cope with unemployment, depression, house repossessions and stress."

John Wight, a friend of the late writer, said he believed Reekie had been suffering from "the after-effects of a serious assault".

Another close friend believes the letters from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) may have been the final straw for Reekie, who is thought to have been suffering from depression. In an online tribute to the devoted follower of Hibernian FC, he spoke of the last time they met, just days before he took his own life: "I knew (Paul) was lonely and wasn't too happy overall. "He told me that he'd had a ‘brutally bad' time recently, especially because social security officials had disallowed and stopped his disability benefit, even though he had a bad heart condition.

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"I didn't know Paul for any of his artistic things really, just as an absolutely brilliant pal and out-and-out funny bloke."

A political group to oppose cuts to disability payments, the Black Triangle Campaign, has been launched in Reekie's memory.

A spokesman said: "The Chancellor's emergency Budget announcing changes to the benefits regime, allegedly to get millions of sick and disabled people off benefits ‘and into work' implicitly suggests that a great many of them are malingerers, and that their doctors and consultants are either ‘too soft' on them or are somehow acting as co-conspirators in the execution of alleged benefit fraud.

"Unfortunately, Paul was a victim of this policy and found he simply couldn't take it any more."

Fife-born Reekie was a well known figure at literary and musical events, as well as football matches, in his adopted home city. He reached his widest audience in 1994 when his poem, When Caesar's Mushroom is in Season, was published in Welsh's short story collection, The Acid House, a global best-seller. Reekie shared a stage with the Trainspotting author at a Hogmanay event at the Traverse Theatre in 1996 and supported Nick Cave at Princes Street Gardens in 2002. He was also a talented musician and featured alongside Joy Division in a 1979 compilation album.

Strathclyde University's Fraser of Allander Institute believes the pressure on Scotland's jobless will increase and has forecast up to 126,000 job losses over the next five years.

Paul Farmer, chief executive of health charity Mind, fears a radical tightening of work capability assessments could lead to tens of thousands of people being forced to look for work when they are unable to do so.

He said: "Most people with mental health problems want to work, but need time and support to be able to do so.

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"We have seen some truly shocking examples of people who cannot be reasonably expected to enter any workplace being assessed as fit for work."

The UK government insists the country cannot afford to avoid tackling spiralling welfare costs, which reached 192bn last year. Ministers had already begun tough measures to tackle benefit fraud by testing more than 10,000 claimants a week.

As part of the crackdown Osborne has also set out plans to cut housing benefit and disability living allowance.

Speaking after his Budget he said of welfare reform: "We have got to make sure we do it in a way that protects those with genuine needs, those with disabilities, but also encourages those who can work into work."

A spokeswoman for the DWP confirmed Reekie had recently been sent correspondence relating to benefits but was unable to discuss their contents.

She said: "We are very sorry to hear this tragic news, but cannot comment further as a report has been sent to the procurator fiscal."