Despite his GP writing a letter to the Jobcentre clearly stating that he was “extremely unwell and absolutely unfit for any work whatsoever,” Mark Wood, 44, starved to death after he was deemed fit for work and had his benefits cut.
Dr Ward added “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.”
Described as a “sweet and gentle” man, Mr Wood sister, Cathie Wood, told The Guardian that her brother had stopped opening letters and did not know he had to return to the Jobcentre to reapply for benefits.
Mr Wood suffered from several complex health conditions. He was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome and obsessive compulsive disorder in his late 20s, and went on to develop an eating disorder and cognitive behavioural problems.
Despite his history of struggling with the debilitating effects of these serious conditions, Ms Wood said that Atos found Mr Wood fit for work after a half-hour interview at his home and did not seek medical evidence from his GP. Atos concluded that Mr Wood’s mental state was ‘normal’.
At the inquest into Mr Wood’s death, Dr Ward said that the Atos decision was an “accelerating factor” in Mr Wood’s decline and eventual death.
Shortly before his death Mr Wood became increasingly distressed that his housing benefit and employment and support allowance had been stopped, and at mounting rent arrears and threats to cut off his electricity. He stopped opening many of the letters he received as he struggled to survive on the £40 per week he was left with from his disability living allowance. He died in August of last year, a few months after the Atos decision.
“We worked for years to create a place for him to live safely. But that stopped when his benefits were stopped. He tried so hard to survive,” Ms Wood said, and continued “He was quite a proud person. He would have wanted to be seen as normal. He was desperate to get by as normal. He didn’t want to impose on our mother. He wanted to survive without her help.”
“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 and Cameron to acknowledge the personal costs of this flawed system. This is not just someone being inconvenienced – this is a death.”
This tragic incident, and the many other deaths that have been a result of (or contributed to by) the appalling way in which the work capability assessment has been applied, clearly shows that it is not suitable for people with complex conditions – especially mental health conditions.
Considering the complexity of mental health conditions it is astonishing that a decision can be made on information gained in a short interview by an unqualified person, when most conditions are very long-term (if not life-long) and require specialised expert treatment and monitoring.
Expecting a person with mental health problems to fully relay the impact of their condition on their daily lives is a moronic concept and defies logic.
By their nature, mental health conditions alter a person’s perception of the world around them, and they may be unaware of the impact of those perceptions (or their behaviour) on their daily living, or may try to ‘carry on as normal’ and try to minimise the impact of their mental health on their lives.
By no means are people with mental health conditions unintelligent or stupid. It is just that the way the world around them is perceived is different to other people. When talking about their condition they may not realise the significance of something which they have come to live with every day – especially when talking to someone who has no idea about the impact of mental health problems.
The nature of many mental health conditions means that a person’s ability to cope with the tasks of daily living may significantly fluctuate from day to day. One day they may be able to cope with life, and another day may be in a highly distressed state where they become incapable of the most basic interaction with others, or the demands of society.
Then there are the effects of medication – something of a double-edged sword. Although they may help the person to cope with the most debilitating aspects of their condition, drugs also significantly affect the functioning of a person’s mind – that is their purpose!
In addition to the physical effects of drugs used in mental health, there are also common effects between many psychiatric drugs on a person’s mental functioning and capability. These are drowsiness, impaired concentration, and generalised feelings of being detached from the world, all of which will have significant bearing on how the person relays information.
The fact is that people experiencing mental health difficulties are vulnerable – especially when they are required to engage with people they don’t know who have no idea of the history of the person’s mental health condition – such as triggers that make their condition worse, or significantly change the person’s behaviour or ability to cope with different situations.
Decisions about the person’s ability to work can ONLY be made by those who have been part of the person’s care – not on a short ‘tick-box’ interview with the subjective views of an untrained and unaware assessor.
Medical professionals are not idiots either! Most are aware of the very serious impact mental health can have on a person and those around them. They know if a person is vulnerable and may be unable to function in situations that other people may take for granted. They know that many mental health conditions can be volatile, and affect the person from day to day. This is why they clearly state, as Dr Ward did, that their patients are unfit to take part in work activities.
Mental health is not an exact science, and it can be impossible to predict when or if a person will be able to take part in work activities. Conditions affect different people in different ways, as do many of the commonly prescribed medications.
Another major problem for many people experiencing mental health problems is the lack of support. With government cuts to welfare and mental health services meaning that services are struggling to cope with their basic caseload, it is near impossible for many people in many areas of the country to get support unless they become extremely unwell or are sectioned under the Mental Health Act. Charities try to fill the gap in services, but they have limited capacity and face funding problems because of government agendas.
Atos, Duncan Smith, and the DWP in general are not interested in welfare whatsoever.
The work capability assessment does not allow for proper assessment, and when the system purposely ignores medical professionals who have spent years specialising in mental health, and have a wealth of valuable experience about their patient, there can be only one conclusion.
The conclusion is that Atos, Duncan Smith, and the DWP are ONLY interested in numbers.
Atos is interested in how much it is being paid, Duncan Smith is interested in manipulating statistics so his government ‘look good’, and the DWP are spending all their time meeting ridiculous ‘targets’ set by Duncan Smith.
Meanwhile in the real world, medical professionals and those suffering mental health conditions are trying to cope with the effects of the government’s draconian measures, and are becoming increasingly frustrated at the incompetence of the system.
For some people (if not many) with mental health problems, getting though another day is a major achievement – let alone have to cope with the unnecessary added pressure from a psychopathic agenda.
The fact is, that many people with mental health problems want to work but are unable to. It is not a conscious decision to remain mentally unwell! For many, the hard truth is that they are not capable of engaging in work without there being significant detrimental outcomes.
If assessments of people with mental health problems are to be made, then it is time that the opinions of medical professionals who have been involved with the person are the deciding factor – not some government monkey with other agendas.
Our condolences go out to the family of friends of Mr Wood.
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