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Journalist pays tribute to man whose case prompted government U-turn

A regional daily which helped a man with severe health problems receive benefits he was originally denied has paid tribute to him following his death.

HTFP reported in February how the Liverpool Echo had come to the aide of 64-year-old Stephen Smith, who had been declared fit for work despite being hospitalised over Christmas with his weight dropping to just six stone.

Mr Smith was forced to get a pass out from hospital to go and fight a decision by the Department for Work and Pensions, which repeatedly denied him Employment Support Allowance, but the DWP later agreed to provide him with back payments for the money he was denied after the Echo highlighted the case.

Mr Smith died last week, and political editor Liam Thorp subsequently published a tribute piece in his memory.

How the Echo revealed Stephen's case

How the Echo revealed Stephen’s case

Wrote Liam: “We don’t know the exact reasons behind Stephen’s death at this stage and clearly he was a man with a number of serious health concerns. What we can safely say is that the endless months he spent fighting against what was so obviously an incorrect decision to deny him benefits and that saw him leave hospital – all six stone of him – to fight a tribunal, will not have made his difficult life any easier.

“While those images of Stephen’s withered body will remain scorched in the memory, it would be better to remember him as someone who showed incredible strength in the face of such injustice and adversity.

“With the help of some important friends, he summoned a fierce level of resolve that was nothing short of remarkable for someone who was struggling to make it from the living room to the kitchen.

“And what he did was so important. Like others, he exposed a flawed system for what it is – a cold, automated project that has no time for personal circumstances and prioritises efficiency light years ahead of empathy.”

Stephen had eventually received more than £4,000 he was owed, and the money will now be used to pay for his funeral.

Liam added: “He should have been supported, looked after and cared for by the country he had lived and worked in for 64 years.

“But let’s not remember Stephen just as someone who was badly treated by the state – let’s remember him as someone who summoned the strength at his weakest hour and shone the brightest light on a system that needs an urgent overhaul. RIP Stephen.”