A man with Asperger’s Syndrome starved to death after benefits cut

Mark Wood, Photograph: SWNS.com

Mark Wood, Photograph: SWNS.com

Bampton, Oxford – Mark Wood, 44, starved to death after his benefits were cut. Mr Wood was only left with £40 a week to survive on after most of his benefits, including housing were stopped.

Atos Healthcare assessed that Mark Wood, from Bampton, was fit to work.

At Oxford Coroner’s Court the inquest into his death found that Mr Wood was not fit enough to work.

Mr Wood weighed just 5st 8lbs (78 pounds or just over 35 kilos) when he died in August 2013 of malnutrition. Mr Wood had Aspergers Syndrome, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and phobias of food, pollution, paint fumes, and social situations.

His GP Nicolas Ward told the inquest:

“He was an extremely vulnerable and fragile individual who was coping with life.”

He adds:

“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.”

Dr Ward said he had not been contacted by Atos or the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) about Mr Wood’s medical history. He revealed that if they had asked him for a professional opinion he would have said that Mr Wood was unfit for work.

But in January last year Atos Healthcare assessed Mr Wood as fit to work and following this assessment in April last year Mr Wood’s housing benefits and employment support allowance were stopped.

The inquest heard he was not able to pay his rent or utility bills.

Mr Wood’s sister, Cathie Wood, 48, from North Oxford, told the Oxford Mail:

“Atos are completely to blame. If they had not evaluated him as normal he would have carried on in his own way and would not have died last summer.”

His mother Jill Gant, from Abingdon, told the coroner that they only found out Mr Wood did not have any money a few weeks before he died. They sent him £250.

Ms Wood said:

“By then it was too late, he was so fragile and unstable. We didn’t realise how bad things were.”

Between April and his death his body mass index (BMI) plunged to 11.5. A BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is considered healthy. The inquest also stated that he had developed an eating disorder.

The Oxford Mail report that:

‘Pathologist Clare Verrill told the court that a BMI below 13 could kill a man but a cause of death could not be given because his body had decomposed. Mr Wood had last been seen alive on July 29 but his body was not discovered until August 9.’

His family are meeting Nicola Blackwood, Oxford West and Abingdon MP next week to try and find out why he was declared fit to work.

Atos Healthcare spokeswoman Tessa David said:

“Our thoughts are with the family of Mr Wood at this difficult time.

“We carry out the Government’s Work Capability Assessment as professionally and compassionately as possible.”

DWP spokesman Ann Rimell said:

“A decision on whether someone is well enough to work is taken following a thorough assessment and after consideration of all the supporting medical evidence from the claimant’s GP or medical specialist.”

Tom Pollard, policy and campaigns manager at Mind, told TheGuardian:

“We were deeply saddened to hear of the death of Mark Wood. Unfortunately this tragic case is not an isolated incident. We hear too often how changes to benefits are negatively impacting vulnerable individuals, who struggle to navigate a complex, and increasingly punitive, system.”