Saturday, March 01, 2014

A Face Behind the Grim Statistics

 MARK WOOD a face behind the figures

 IT was one of those stories that have become all too common in Cameron's Britain. Only this one happened in the Tory Prime Minister's own backyard. Not Downing Street, but his Oxfordshire constituency, where a lot of people are supposed to be comfortably well off, and some are more than comfortable.

Mark Wood, aged 44, was neither. He had a number of mental health problems, and his GP did not think he was fit to work, but ATOS who did the work assessment found Mark fit. Their advice led to his sickness benefit being stopped. His housing benefit also stopped. Four months later, in August last year, Mr.Wood was found dead at his home in Bampton, Oxfordshire.

 The Oxfordshire coroner, Darren Salter, said that although it was impossible to identify the cause of death, it was probably "caused or contributed to by Wood being markedly underweight and malnourished". He weighed 5st 8lbs (35kg) when he died; his doctor said his body mass index was not compatible with life.

 The story of how Mark Wood died after struggling to survive on £40-a-week disability allowance, being reluctant to ask relatives for help, not realising he should sign on, and developing an eating disorder, was narrated by Amelia Gentleman, in the Guardian yesterday.

 Concerned about his patient's condition, Wood's doctor, Nicholas Ward, wrote a letter for Wood to pass to the jobcentre in support of his benefits application, stating that he was "extremely unwell and absolutely unfit for any work whatsoever". The letter, presented to the inquest, stated that his anxiety disorder and obsessional traits had been made "significantly worse" because of the pressure put on him by benefit changes. It continued: "Please do not stop 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." It was not clear whether the letter reached the jobcentre.
  Dr Ward told the inquest the Atos decision was an "accelerating factor" in Wood's decline and eventual death, according to his family. Wood told housing association staff he was very distressed housing benefit had been cut off, and by letters about rising rent arrears and warnings from the electricity company his supply would be cut off. Many letters were unopened, so he was unaware he needed to visit the jobcentre to reapply for support, his sister, Cathie Wood, said.
Mark Wood's case was one of many. Organisations campaigning against the work assessment system and attack on benefits say as many as 10,000 people have died due to their effects. Cath Wood says she is writing to David Cameron, as Mark Wood's MP, and to the Minister responsible,, Ian Duncan Smith. "I would like Iain Duncan Smith to stop talking about this as a moral crusade, and admit that this whole process of reassessing people for their benefits is a cost-cutting measure. I want him and Cameron to acknowledge the personal costs of this flawed system. This is not just someone being inconvenienced – this is a death," Cathie Wood said.

She is angry Atos did not seek medical evidence from her brother's GP, and made the assessment that he was capable of preparing to return to work after a half-hour interview at his home. The Atos report concluded his mental state was "normal".

An Atos spokeswoman said: "Our thoughts are with the family of Mr Wood at this difficult time." The Department of Work and Pensions had a similarly sympathetic message. Unfortunately their thoughts and sympathy come too late to save Mark Wood.

After recent demonstrations throughout the country, ATOS has said it wants out of the work assessment scheme. But this could simply mean another company, such as Capita or G4S, is getting in line for the contract. G4S could be facing prosecution after an inquest last year reached an "unlawful killing" verdict on asylum seker Jimmy Mubenga, who died as he was being shoved on a plane at Heathrow by G4S security guards. The company's Australian subsidiary has just lost the contract for the detention centre in Papua New Guinea where another man died.

As for the DWP, a government minister apologised on Thursday after it emerged that the Department had written to a woman asking her to begin "intensive work-focused activity" although at the time she was in a coma.

The same day, as a result of lobbying by disabled campaigners and the efforts of Labour MP John McDonnell, there was a debate in the House of Commons about how government welfare reforms - starting with the previous, Labour government, bringing in the assessment tests and ATOS - have affected the sick and disabled.

MPs discuss welfare reform effects on sick and disabled

This is worth looking at both for the speeches of John McDonnell, Dennis Skinner and other MPs, and for the amount of empty space in the chamber, showing how many MPs were too busy or could not be bothered to attend this debate.

 We can only be grateful for the way a dedicated socialist like John McDonnell refuses to be disheartened by surrounding apathy or bought off by the Establishment. And here is the statement issued afterwards. The story of Mark Wood can serve an illustration of why it is necessary.

PRESS RELEASE 28/02/2014 For Immediate Release
Following a historic debate in the House of Commons, the first time in its history people with disabilities have secured a debate on a motion of their choosing, John McDonnell MP calls on the Government to implement a full cumulative impact assessment of the effects of welfare reform on sick and disabled people. Following yesterday’s historic backbench business debate in the House of Commons, John McDonnell has called on the Government to address the widespread suffering amongst the disabled community as a result of the impact of cuts to the welfare budget. The debate marked the first time in the history of this Parliament that people with disabilities have secured a debate in the Chamber on an agenda of their choosing. Secured with cross-party support on a motion worded as closely as possible to an e-petition organised by the WOW campaign, MP’s called for an independent cumulative impact assessment of welfare reform on sick and disabled people, their families and carers. The e-petition amassed well over 100,000 signatures and incorporated a number of demands made by disabled people facing enormous distress as a result of this government’s harmful welfare agenda. The motion was carried through without opposition in the Chamber yesterday. John McDonnell MP now calls on government action to address widespread suffering among the sick and disabled community.

 John McDonnell MP said: ‘I now call on the Government to respect the will of Parliament and implement the recommendations for a full cumulative impact assessment of the impact of changes in the welfare system on sick and disabled people, their families and carers.’ ‘All the evidence now demonstrates the scale of the suffering of disabled people as a result of the cumulative impact of the cuts to welfare. The government must act now to address the widespread concerns expressed by religious leaders, voluntary organisations and numerous experts.’

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