Asperger sufferer starved to death after benefits stopped

A 44-year-old disabled man living in David Cameron's Oxford constituency starved to death after his benefits were cut. Although Mark Wood was declared fit to earn a living by controversial agency Atos - the French company which carries out DWP benefit assessments - he weighed 5st 8lbs when his body was discovered. Wood had lost his housing and employment benefit; he was left with just a £40 disability grant to survive on. %VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo%

Complex problems

When police found Wood, diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, his food supplies had more or less expired. Half a banana was left, plus a tin of tuna. "Atos are completely to blame," sister Cathie Wood told the Mirror. "Anyone who knew Mark's complex problems would see he couldn't work."

"I'd like David Cameron and his Government," she added, "to be aware of the personal cost of their policies and how they are affecting real people and causing real heartache."

Wood had serious mental health problems, not to mention an eating disorder and obsessive compulsive behaviour. Reluctant to let his relatives know of his financial problems, it's understood his family had not been aware of the drastic financial cuts Wood was exposed to until he was close to death.

Dignity and integrity

Wood's own doctor, Dr Nicholas Ward, had recently written to his local jobcentre to support his claim for benefits, saying he was "absolutely unfit for any work whatsoever". Ward described Wood as a man of "dignity and integrity".

"Please do not stop," the Guardian quotes the letter, "or reduce his benefits as this will have ongoing, significant impact on his mental health. He simply is not well enough to cope with this extra stress. His mental and medical condition is extremely serious."

Yet Atos went ahead, concluding that Wood's mental state "normal". At the inquest, doctor Ward declared Atos' decision was a significant factor to Woods' death. AOL Money called Atos, but Atos says it does not comment on individual cases.

Over the edge?

However the Department of Work & Pensions says the coroner acknowledged Wood's eating disorder and food phobia. "It is likely," coroner Darren Salter said, "that this caused or contributed to his death as he was markedly underweight and malnourished."

He added: "I accept the evidence about something pushing him over the edge heard by the GP Mr Ward. On the other hand we do know cash was provided prior to death, but because of his phobias he didn't use that cash to buy food."

Previously Labour MP Dennis Skinner has urged David Cameron to cancel the government's Atos contract. Skinner, MP for Bolsover, had publicised the case of a constitutent with cancer, stripped of his benefit, who died subsequently.

Skinner called Atos a "cruel heartless monster'. There was also the case of Sheila Holt, a 47-year-old woman from Rochdale who had been in a coma for a month. But Atos kept sending her letters, pressurising her to find work.
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