Mother of ‘fit for work’ victim calls for ministers to face criminal charges

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The mother of a disabled man who starved to death after he was found “fit for work” and lost his out-of-work disability benefits has called for ministers to face criminal charges.

Jill Gant says work and pensions ministers should be tried for misconduct in public office for failing to take action that could have saved the life of her son, Mark Wood.

She spoke out after signing a letter, drawn up by the Green Party and backed by Disabled People Against Cuts, that calls on work and pensions secretary Damian Green to order an independent inquiry into the links between his department’s procedures and the deaths of benefit claimants.

The party has produced a dossier of 50 cases in which the deaths of benefit claimants have been linked to decisions taken by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Mark Wood (pictured) starved to death in 2013 after being found ineligible for employment and support allowance (ESA), even though he had never been able to cope with the demands of a job and his GP had said he was completely incapable of working.

The decision to find him fit for work caused him extreme anxiety and distress and exaggerated his eating disorder.

He died in the summer of 2013, apparently from natural causes and as a result of becoming dangerously underweight, four months after his incapacity benefit was stopped.

Because of his complex mental health condition and other impairments, including the eating disorder, Asperger’s syndrome and multple chemical sensitivity, he had not provided the evidence needed in his ESA application, or at a face-to-face work capability assessment (WCA).

But he had stated in the ESA form that he had problems with anxiety and depression, while the assessment was carried out at the cottage where he lived alone, rather than at an Atos assessment centre in Oxford, because of the severity of his panic attacks.

Because of his complex mental health issues, he was unable to cope with either support workers or help from his family, and his mother says he was unaware of the purpose of the WCA.

She said that neither the Atos assessor nor the DWP decision-maker made any attempt to secure further medical evidence about his mental health from his GP, who would have told them that he was unable to work.

His GP told his inquest in February 2014 that he had handed Mark a note, explaining that he was extremely unwell and completely unfit to work, but the note does not appear to have reached his local jobcentre.

The GP also told the inquest: “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.”

His death came three years after ministers had been warned by a coroner – following the death of Stephen Carré in January 2010 – that they needed to review their policy not to seek further medical evidence from the GPs and psychiatrists of ESA claimants with mental health conditions.

And a year after Mark Wood died, another letter was sent to DWP by a coroner, raising the same concerns and making almost identical recommendations, this time following the death of a disabled man from north London.

But nearly seven years after the Stephen Carré inquest, these safety concerns have still not been addressed, despite many other deaths, and a DWP promise to a tribunal that it would test ways to collect further medical evidence through a pilot project, although a DWP spokesman said today (Thursday) that the pilot project had now been completed.

Former DWP ministers Iain Duncan Smith and Chris Grayling have been heavily criticised for failing to act on the coroner’s advice in 2010, for covering-up that report, and failing to pass it to Professor Malcolm Harrington – the expert they had commissioned to review the WCA – as well as failing to show Harrington secret DWP reports linking the WCA with the deaths of benefit claimants.

Attempts by the user-led grassroots group Black Triangle (BT) to secure a prosecution of Duncan Smith and Grayling in Scotland – over the deaths of three Scottish benefit claimants – have so far failed because of resistance from the Scottish criminal justice system, although BT is seeking legal representation to help push for a case to be taken in the Scottish courts.

Mark Wood’s mother, Jill Gant, said she would like to see ministers held accountable by the criminal justice system for their failure to act on the Stephen Carré coroner’s report, which she believes led to her son’s death.

The retired education social worker, now 78, and from Abingdon, Oxfordshire, said: “Quite honestly, I think they have failed in their duty. They doggedly refused to consider and act on this very clear, simple suggestion.”

She said it would be “stunning” if a case could be brought against ministers, and added: “They certainly need to be called to account.”

She secured a meeting with the minister for disabled people, Mark Harper, in March 2015, but said that he had “a heart of stone” and had made no effort to be “friendly or understanding”, and when she asked him about the need to secure further medical evidence “he refused to answer the question directly”.

She said it was “shocking” that Harper now chaired the all-party parliamentary group on learning disability.

Her search for answers following her son’s death had quickly focused on the single issue of why further medical evidence had not been sought.

Confronted by the refusal of Conservative ministers, including Harper and employment minister Priti Patel*, to answer her questions, she has now told her Tory MP, Nicola Blackwood, that the refusal to act was “not fair and in my view it is not moral or legal”.

The final letter from Patel was sent to her last July and said that DWP was still working with Maximus – the discredited US outsourcing giant now carrying out WCAs – to “expand the current guidance” on securing further medical evidence and “ensure that evidence is gathered in more circumstances than at present, especially for those claimants with a mental health condition”.

She said: “They must have no conscience at all. Each of these stories, each of them, is a massive tragedy and a painful time for these poor people.

“In the end I [told my MP]that I looked forward to having a government where there was compassion and understanding and which would seek to protect the most vulnerable.”

A DWP spokesman said this morning (Thursday): “The department will respond to the [Green Party] letter once it has been received.

“The pilot has been completed, and the outcomes of that will help to inform training and staff guidance.”

It is not yet clear what action DWP will take following the pilot project.

*Both of them have now left the department

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  • Mwxxx .

    How come the Green Party hasn’t heard of – “Homicide: Murder and Manslaughter” – google it and checkout the CPS page.

    Inquiry? How come the Green Party hasn’t heard of “The Police”.
    the Green Party can’t google “The Police”???

    Black Triangle should google “scottish government atos” and “scottish government unison”
    then google whatever is Scottish for “Perverting The Course Of Justice”.

    • weirdvisions

      The Green Party is far too busy making sure that old and vulnerable people face freezing to death in a cold winter so that cuddly climate alarmists can congratulate themselves for helping to save the planet from the onslaught of plant food.

      • Mwxxx .

        Not just the Green party.

        The blind eye turning criminal abusers at ‘my’ (Jeremy Corbyn’s)Atos/Unison/DWP/Welsh Government have got one of the scumbags that they employ (Wales and West Utilities) to use “Maintenance” as a lame excuse to cut off my gas.

        Google –
        Witness Intimidation, Misconduct in Public Office, Assisting An Offender, Vulnerable Adult Abuse.

        Nothing but Jeremy Corbyn’s bent Atos/Cops here – Google “Atos South Wales Police”.

  • weirdvisions

    The system is nightmarish and extremely difficult to negotiate. Is it any wonder that some of the most vulnerable people in our society give up – literally. Every death that is a direct cause of this system is a scandal. The struggle for justice is uphill all the way with the odds and the system stacked against you.

    In April last year I attended a disability assessment. I have a long standing, degenerative spinal injury that is inoperable and very limiting because of the pain. Standing, walking or even sitting for more than half an hour is hell. Yet, thanks to a so called trained disability analyst who claimed to observe things that are physically impossible for me to do, I was awarded zero points.

    I successfully challenged the decision and the assessment was set aside by a first-tier tribunal as being “unreasoned”. Unfortunately I was placed into the WRAG and not returned to the Support Group. I appealed to the Upper Tribunal and they are currently investigating my Point of Law – I believe the court made a mistake by having me placed into the wrong group. All this because of a “medical practicioner” whose blatant unethical behaviour should never have allowed him to be anywhere near a disability assessment centre. I believe this particular individual isn’t an oddity given the experiences shared by others and the overwhelming number of cases handled by the First-tier tribunal, the majority of which are found in favour of the disabled person.

    Yesterday I received a letter stating that even my reduced amount of ESA will be stopped shortly because I was placed into the wrong group and must be governed by the rules of that group. I’ve written to them explaining that an appeal is still ongoing. Meanwhile I have to go through the motions of yet again requesting the legal farce known as a Mandatory Reconsideration before I am forced to lodge a second appeal regarding the withdrawal of ESA. I am not optimistic about them listening to reason since they have completely failed to do just that for the last ten months. Apparently the “evidence” of a mendacious report trumps the opinion of three orthopaedic specialists and the physical evidence of X-Rays and MRI
    scans.

    In short the entire situation has been one long, shoddy trainwreck courtesy of the DWP from the outset. And even if the Upper Tribunal rules for me I will have to be subjected to the same vicious obstacle course in just over a year’s time. The system will not tolerate the idea that there are people who are genuinely unfit for any kind of work.

    You might win your First-tier tribunal. It doesn’t mean that the vindictivness of this unfair system is going to end.

    Also there’s another political IED in the pipeline. From April this year those who are forced off ESA and into unsuitable employment they cannot realistically perform will have to make a fresh claim for ESA. The cap for new claims will match Job Seekers Allowance. Disabled people are going to be worse off one nefarious way or another. This disgusting practice is highly discriminatory and must be challenged.

    I am fortunatel that I have the support of my family and the determination to fight this outrageous discrimination to the bitter end – theirs not mine. I can only hope that if the Upper Tribunal ruling is favourable it will help other people to get an unfair decision overturned more easily.

    • Mwxxx .

      Upper Tribunals are about points of law right?

      So checkout –
      The Fraud Act 2006
      Medical Act 1983 (pretending to be a medical doctor)
      Conspiracy to Defraud
      Criminal Attempts Act 1981
      Misconduct in Public Office
      Accessories and Abettors Act 1861
      Serious Crime Act 2007 – Part 2 – Encouraging or Assisting Crime
      Abuse of Vulnerable Adults
      Care Act 2014 – Safeguarding adults at risk of abuse or neglect
      Equality Act 2010 – Especially sections 26. Harassment. and 27. Victimisation.

      And for DWP ‘appeals’ and ‘tribunals’ checkout –
      Witness Intimidation
      Assisting an Offender
      Perverting The Course of Justice

      Try asking them why they haven’t reported it all to the Police.

      • weirdvisions

        Thanks for the reply. This new system is malicious and needs to be challeneged every which way. Once I have my ruling on the point of law I’ve raised, whether favourable or not, I’m going after the individual who kicked this whole thing off – the “medical practitioner” who told me he was an “orthopaedic doctor” whatever one of those is, but failed to list that particular speciality at the end of his nil points “disability analysis”. His excuses for missing things that were there and seeing things that most definitely weren’t there were so pathetic they would have made a three year old blush with embarrassment.

        Next time I’m taking a solicitor (family friend who says she will do it pro bono) with me. Let’s see how that makes the next “analyst” I encounter shape up.

        • Mwxxx .

          Cool… But be a bit careful of lawyers.
          If they just try to BS you about something as simple as The Fraud Act 2006 or Misconduct in Public Office then they won’t be on your side.