A 66 year old pensioner set fire to his own car and burnt himself alive after succumbing to a £800 debt that he could not pay.
Malcolm Burge, a cemetery gardener from London told friends and family that he was attending a funeral in the west country before parking his car in a lay-by and igniting a can of petrol.
As the flames engulfed him, a nearby group of teenagers attempted to save the 66 year old instructing him to “roll around on the floor”. According to one of the witnesses that tried to help the pensioner: “I could see his face and he looked scared, he dropped slowly to his knees before starting to roll.”
As the flames died out the youngsters attempted to keep Mr Burge talking by asking his name and where he was from “Malcolm” he replied, “I have come down here on holiday, I am from London.”
He was then rushed to hospital by air ambulance but died soon after due to the severity of his injuries.
A coroner ruled that Mr Burge had committed suicide after a 50% cut in his housing benefit left him battling with his local council for help and time in paying his £800 debt. On the day of his death his bank balance stood at £50.
The inquest heard that shortly before his death, Mr Burge had written to Newham Borough Council saying: “I can’t remember the last time I had £800 in my possession. I have no savings or assets. I’m not trying to live. I am trying to survive. I’m now more stressed, depressed and suicidal than in any of my previous letters.”
In total, Mr Burge received 10 separate demands for payment.
The debt that Mr Burge found himself ensnared under began when his housing benefit was halved from £90 to £45 per week. Due to a backlog in processing reductions Newham council continued to pay Mr Burge the full sum for a total of six months. By the time his new payments were processed the Department of Work and Pensions [DWP] found that he had been overpaid by just over £800.
When Newham council found out he could not pay back the required amount in full they began deducting weekly sums from his benefits before enacting legal action.
The family of Mr Burge stated that they did not know the troubles that Mr Burge had found himself in adding that his pride kept him away from asking.
Much of the consequences of government welfare cuts are not reported in the news. The DWP seemingly could not care less the thousands of vulnerable people that are unable to cope after cuts to their already meager benefit wage. David Cameron and his ruling Conservative government tell us that we are ‘all in it together’ but it doesn’t look like we are.