Family of benefits cut man hail 'lifeline' welfare group

Herald Series: Mark Wood Mark Wood

THE sister of Mark Wood, who starved to death after his benefits were wrongly cut, has said an Oxfordshire charity was the family’s lifeline.

Cathie Wood, 48, of north Oxford, said the Barton-based Oxfordshire Welfare Rights (OWR) was crucial in her success to force a Government U-turn over the case.

She said if the charity had been involved last April, her brother would not be dead.

The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) last week admitted cutting Mr Wood’s benefits was wrong.

The 44-year-old from Bampton died from malnutrition in August last year after his benefits were cut to £40 per week to live on – despite his obsessive compulsive disorders, Asperger’s syndrome, phobias of food, pollution, paint fumes, and social situations, and cognitive behavioural problems.

Ms Wood raised concerns that cuts to the charity’s funding could mean other Oxfordshire families won’t get the help they need.

She said: “Some of the benefit cuts are killing people. OWR was a lifeline. Their knowledge, advice and commitment is incredible.

“It is just a shame my brother and people around him didn’t know about the charity.”

OWR worked with Ms Woods and her mum Jill Gant, from Abingdon, to appeal against the decision to cut Mr Wood’s benefits after his death in his name.

The charity, which also runs as the Barton Advice Centre from the Barton Neighbourhood Centre in Underhill Circus, lost two members of staff following Government legal aid cuts from April 1, last year.

It also faces possible cuts from next April after the county council cut its overall charity advice centre funding from £300k to £200k.

The charity costs £340,000 to run and currently gets £117k from the county council and £122k from Oxford City Council.

Between January 2012 and January this year, OWR took 312 cases to appeals against DWP decisions, and 281 were successful.

County Council spokesman Sam Henry said: “Funding will be maintained for information and advice for older people, carers, people with impairments and disabled people.

“The county council will continue to fund general and specific welfare rights organisations.”

The amount for OWR will be decided later this year.

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