A petition calling for an inquiry into deaths linked to the actions of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has secured the support of more than 20,000 people in less than two weeks.
By this morning (Thursday), more than 22,000 people had signed the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, more than a fifth of the way to the target of 100,000 which should ensure it is debated in the House of Commons.
The Liberal Democrats added their support this week, with their disabled president, Baroness [Sal] Brinton, signing the petition and confirming that she backed each of its key demands, following similar support last week from the Green party.
But there is still a lingering question over the commitment of the Labour party to the petition.
Despite backing it on Twitter, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Marsha de Cordova, has yet to make a statement on its demands, 10 days after Disability News Service first asked her to comment.
The petition wants to see any evidence of criminal misconduct by ministers or civil servants that is produced by the inquiry to be passed to police.
It also calls for MPs to recognise DWP as “institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose”, and to push DWP to introduce urgent changes to make the safety of all claimants a priority.
Jodey Whiting, who had a long history of mental distress, had her out-of-work disability benefits stopped for missing a work capability assessment when she was seriously ill, and took her own life just 15 days later.
DWP failed five times to follow its own safeguarding rules in the weeks leading up to her suicide in February 2017, an independent investigation found last month.
Baroness Brinton said: “What happened to Jodey Whiting was incredibly tragic and should never have happened.
“However, we are continually hearing of other worrying tales of how disabled people are being treated by the Department for Work and Pensions and we must see action taken by the Conservatives to guarantee wholescale reform of the system.
“They must act to ensure that a tragedy such as Jodey’s never happens again.”
Meanwhile, fresh evidence has emerged this week that DWP is not fit purpose.
A report from the Demos think tank has concluded that disabled people have lost all faith in DWP, with only 19 per cent trusting jobcentre staff to treat them fairly.
And a report by the National Audit Office (NAO) concluded today (Thursday) that DWP still has “limited evidence of what works when it comes to supporting disabled people to work”.
Christine Jardine, DWP spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, said the NAO findings “simply add to the mounting stack of evidence showing that the DWP is not fit for purpose” while de Cordova said the government had “bitterly failed to support disabled people into employment”.