- Couple had to walk ten miles a week to a soup kitchen for free food
- Charity call for investigation after couple ‘slipped through the net’
- Mark and Helen Mullins kept food in plastic bags in their garden because they couldn’t afford a fridge
- Driven to despair at having to live off £57.50 a week
- Poverty-stricken pair found dead in home last Friday
An Army veteran and his wife were found dead in their home after becoming so poor they were living ‘hand to mouth’ on food handouts.
Mark and Helen Mullins died in an apparent suicide pact after being reduced to crushing poverty at their rundown home in Bedworth, Warwickshire, though this claim is being disputed by officials.
The couple were reduced to despair at having to live off just £57.50 a week, and had to walk ten miles each week to a soup kitchen to collect free vegetables.
Former soldier Mark, 48, and Helen, 59, who had learning difficulties, ‘slipped through the net’ and were found side-by-side in their home after not having access to the right benefits.
Police said at this stage they are treating the deaths as unexplained and they were not looking for anyone else in connection with the deaths.
Today Mencap, who work with people with learning disabilities, called for an investigation into the death.
Mark Goldring, the charity’s chief executive, said: ‘This is a tragic case and this couple have clearly fallen through the net.
‘We believe that there needs to be an independent inquiry to establish the circumstances which led to their deaths and what went wrong.
‘With the ever tightening eligibility criteria to access social care we are concerned that it is becoming increasingly difficult for people with a mild learning disability to get the advice and support they need.’
The couple had just one income from Mark’s benefits for the past two years, after he claimed his wife’s benefits were stopped.
He had not served in the forces for long enough to claim a pension and left under a cloud amid claims he was an alcoholic, friends said.
Mr Mullins was a PE instructor in the Army but fell on hard times after leaving the service.
She suffered from learning difficulties and social services took her 12-year-old daughter away last year after she was deemed to be incapable of caring for her.
As a result, her child benefits were stopped. She was ineligible to claim Jobseekers Allowance because she was not deemed fit to work.
Friends claimed although she would have been entitled to incapacity benefit, the couple feared Helen would be put into care so did not get the benefit.
They married in July this year despite them both being in a ‘point of crisis’ living in a house they could not afford to keep.
Charity workers have demanded how the ‘wonderful’ couple slipped through the net after not receiving the support they wanted from the state
In a poignant documentary filmed earlier this year, Mark spoke of the couple’s daily struggle to survive after having their benefits cut.
He said: ‘We couldn’t sign on the dole, we couldn’t get the incapacity established, we couldn’t get the disability established so basically we’re living on very little, hand-to-mouth.
WHY THEY WERE LEFT ON £57.50 PER WEEK
Mark and Helen Mullins were left living on a measly £57.50 per week in a run-down property which has now been boarded up.
They would have received an additional £20.30 per week in child benefit before their 12-year-old was taken off them.
Helen was not eligible for disability benefit despite having learning difficulties because they feared she would be put into care if the full extent of her problems were known, friends said.
Mark had not been in the forces for long enough to claim a pension.
‘We’re surviving on food hand-outs and we live in one room of our property, because obviously we can’t afford to heat the rest.
‘What we do is the food that we govern is put into a big pot which I make up into a broth which we put into household bags which keeps us going through the week.
‘We don’t have a fridge, we don’t have a freezer. We put the food in the shed.’
Mr Mullins, who suffered abuse as a child before joining the Army, in the documentary blamed social services for failing to help him and his wife.
He said: ‘I think the system is very unkind. We have lost count of how many appeals we have had, we’ve got reams of paperwork and had help from the Citizens Advice Bureau and independent advocates.
‘We’ve had to fight tooth and nail every step of the way to get benefits.’
Former soldier Mark added: ‘The Jobcentre decided Helen couldn’t sign on as she was incapable of employment as she has no literacy and numeracy skills. We’re living hand to mouth.’
Salvation Army leader and leading Coventry charity worker Kervin Julien met the couple after they walked from Bedworth to Coventry to eat at a soup kitchen he ran in the city centre.
He told the Coventry Telegraph: ‘Mark talked about the difficulties they were having accessing the correct benefits. He also talked about the authorities taking Helen’s daughter away from her but not acknowledging her mental health problems.
‘I did see Mark two or three weeks ago. He was really upset. He said he and Helen had been staying with relatives and friends to try and avoid the authorities, as they believed they wanted to section Helen.
‘Mark was absolutely devoted to Helen and didn’t want to be separated from her – they just wanted support.
Warwickshire Police said Mr and Mrs Mullins were found at their house in Bedworth on Thursday November 4.
Those who knew the couple believe they may have been there for up to two weeks before neighbours and relatives raised the alarm.
One neighbour said yesterday: ‘They obviously couldn’t face another freezing winter and felt they had no other choice but to kill themselves.’
Tony Lloyd, deputy leader of Nuneaton and Bedworth Council, said: ‘We are saddened to hear about the deaths.’
‘We are working closely with the police as they carry out their investigations, and therefore there is very little information we can release about the couple at this time.’
A Warwickshire Police spokesman said: ‘We’re waiting for toxicology tests to establish how the two people died.’
A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: ‘The couple in question had been receiving weekly benefits from the Department since February 2010 – these included money for disability and caring responsibilities as well as out of work support.
‘We had not received any complaint from them about their benefit claim.’