The sudden decision by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to remove a disabled woman’s benefits probably had a substantial impact on her mental health immediately before she took her own life, a leading consultant psychiatrist has concluded.
A report by psychiatrist Dr Trevor Turner* says Jodey Whiting’s mental state was likely to have been “substantially affected” by DWP’s decision to remove her out-of-work benefits for missing a work capability assessment she did not know about.
The report’s conclusions are believed to be one of the few times that a medical expert has drawn clear links between a DWP decision to withdraw benefits from someone with mental distress and their decision to take their own life.
The report details Whiting’s long history of mental distress, and concludes that, on the balance of probabilities, she would have “experienced distress and shock at the withdrawal of her welfare benefits, given her ongoing difficulties, isolation and pain”.
It also highlights DWP’s failure to implement measures it had put in place to protect people in vulnerable situations, which were confirmed by an Independent Case Examiner (ICE) investigation last year.
The report says: “On the balance of probabilities… I consider that there was likely to have been a causal link between the DWP failings outlined in the enclosed ICE report and Jodey’s state of mind immediately before her death.”
Dr Turner concludes that, on the balance of probabilities, “it is likely that her mental state at the time of her death would have been substantially affected by the reported DWP failings”.
The report was prepared as part of an application to the attorney general by Whiting’s family, who are seeking permission to ask the courts to order a second inquest into her death.
Whiting (pictured) took her own life on 21 February 2017, 15 days after she had her out-of-work disability benefits mistakenly stopped for missing a work capability assessment.
ICE concluded last year that DWP was guilty of “multiple” and “significant” failings in handling her case.
But her inquest, in May 2017, lasted less than an hour and failed to investigate DWP’s potential role in her death.
Disability News Service has been given permission to view Dr Turner’s report by Whiting’s mother, Joy Dove, and her legal team at Leigh Day solicitors, on the understanding that sensitive personal information is not published.
Dr Turner’s conclusion that DWP’s failings probably contributed to her mental distress at the time she took her own life is likely to be challenged by DWP if the case reaches court, but it could be helpful to the families of other disabled people who have taken their own lives following the withdrawal of their benefits, and who are also fighting for justice.
Leigh Day stressed that the findings in Dr Turner’s report would only be directly relevant to another case if that person had a similar impairment, support needs and circumstances to Jodey Whiting.
The report is also likely to add weight to growing demands for an independent inquiry into links between DWP’s failings and the deaths of disabled claimants.
DWP has previously refused to comment on the family’s application for permission to seek a second inquest, but it has referred to previous statements on the case, which can be accessed by searching on the DNS website for “Jodey Whiting”.
Dr Turner has lectured and written widely on mental health, has been a clinical adviser to many independent inquiries, is a former vice-president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and was clinical director of East London and the City Mental Health NHS Trust from 1999 to 2007