Government admits Mark Wood's benefits cut before he starved to death 'was wrong' (From The Oxford Times)
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Government admits Mark Wood's benefits cut before he starved to death 'was wrong'
A VULNERABLE man who starved to death months after his benefits were cut should not have been ruled fit to work, the Government has admitted.
Prime Minister David Cameron last night described the death of Mark Wood as “tragic” following the admission by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).
And the DWP has now launched an internal review of the case.
The 44-year-old from Bampton had his benefits cut to just £40 in March last year after Atos Healthcare assessed him as being fit to work.
An inquest into his death in February, which concluded with a narrative verdict, heard he weighed just 5st 8lb when he died of malnutrition in August last year.
Mr Wood had obsessive compulsive disorder, Asperger’s syndrome, phobias of food, pollution, paint fumes, and social situations, and cognitive behavioural problems.
His sister Cathie Wood said the announcement was a “hollow victory” because it would not bring him back.
The 48-year-old from North Oxford said: “We are pleased but sad.
“They have reversed the decision – that is huge, but they obviously had the information at their disposal to make the right decision and if they had done that last March Mark would not be dead.
“It is good because it hopefully means we can now get some answers.”
Ms Wood and her mum Jill Gant, from Abingdon, appealed against the decision in his name earlier this month, acting on advice from Oxfordshire Welfare Rights (OWR).
Now the DWP has written to the family saying it had “revised” its decision to cut Mr Wood’s benefits.
Last night a spokesman said: “The coroner attributed Mr Wood’s eating disorder and food phobia as the likely cause of his death, rather than his benefits being stopped.
“However, after receiving new evidence from Mark Wood’s GP which was not presented at the first assessment, we have revised our original decision.
“We have written to Mr Wood’s family about this decision and are carrying out an internal review.”
Mr Wood’s GP Nicolas Ward told February’s inquest he was an extremely vulnerable and fragile individual who was coping with life.
He said: “Something pushed him or affected him in the time before he died and the only thing I can put my finger on is the pressure he felt he was under when his benefits were removed.”
On Thursday it was announced Atos is to quit its contract early following Government criticisms.
Atos made £111.76m operating profits in 2013.
Ms Wood added: “I think it is good that Atos has withdrawn but it is only part of the story – the whole system needs to be looked at.”
Suzy Drohan, joint manager of OWR, said: “Mr Wood lived in Cameron’s constituency and this happened.
“We are very sorry this had had to come to light from his death.
“There could be other cases in which people have died too. We know there are hundreds of decisions which are not right.”
Between January 2012 and January this year OWR took 312 cases to appeals against DWP decisions, and 281 were successful.
Mr Cameron said: “This is a tragic case and my thoughts are with Mr Wood’s family at this difficult time.”
The decision means the family doesn’t have to take the appeal to court.
Nicola Blackwood, MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, said: “This has been a tragic case and while this decision will not bring Mark back at least it sets the record straight. I have been very clear with the DWP that, in my view, Mark’s case was badly mishandled by Atos and that the family’s appeal needed to be dealt with as a matter of urgency and I am pleased they agreed.
“I also welcome Thursday’s announcement that the Government’s contract with Atos to conduct these assessments has been terminated early.”
Atos refused to comment.
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