THE family of a man who starved to death after his benefits were cut has demanded an apology from the Government.
Mark Wood, from Bampton, weighed just 5st 8lb when he died of malnutrition in August last year – four months after most of his benefits were stopped.
Atos Healthcare, which assesses people’s ability to work on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), assessed that the 44-year-old was fit to work despite the fact that he had a number of mental health problems.
Now his family have met their local MP Nicola Blackwood to recruit her in their campaign for the system to be changed and for an apology to be made.
Mr Wood’s sister Cathie, 48, said: “The Coalition Government says its reforms help the most vulnerable, and he was the most vulnerable. We just hope that he didn’t struggle in vain.
“It is too late for my brother. I am wanting to make sure that the Government is aware of, and building into its system, how they deal with mentally ill people.
“We have to ask the Government to put in place safeguards for people with mental illnesses because there were none. We also want a full apology to my family for Mark’s death.”
Ms Wood, who lives in North Oxford, said the family was considering making a legal claim against both Atos and the DWP. It is being helped by civil rights charity Liberty.
The family is also being assisted by Suzy Drohan, of Oxfordshire Welfare Rights, based in Barton, which is advising them on submitting an appeal against the decision to assess Mr Wood as fit to work.
In January last year, Atos Healthcare assessed Mr Wood as healthy and able to work and his benefits were cut to £40 a week.
An inquest at Oxfordshire Coroner’s Court heard he was not able to pay his rent or utility bills and between April, around the time his benefits were cut, and the time of his death, his body mass index plunged from 14.1 to about 11.5.
Ms Blackwood said: “This is a very tragic case and, after meeting Mark Wood’s family, I have agreed with them I will continue to do whatever I can to help them find answers.
“So far the DWP responses have not been satisfactory so I am seeking a meeting with a DWP minister to discuss the case in detail.”
A spokesman for the DWP said it would not comment at this stage. Atos spokesman Tessa David said: “Our sympathies are with the family of Mr Wood.”
The Oxford Mail has been attempting to get a comment from Mr Wood’s MP, Prime Minister David Cameron, for a week, without success.