The furious mother of a disabled woman who took her own life after repeated safeguarding failings by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has branded DWP’s response to a parliamentary petition set up in her daughter’s name “a joke”.
Joy Dove said this week that DWP’s safeguarding failures had killed her daughter.
She spoke out after DWP responded to the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, which was set up in her daughter’s name.
DWP said in its response that it would not hold an independent inquiry into the deaths of disabled people linked to the failings of ministers and civil servants, as demanded by the petition.
More than 26,000 people have now signed the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, which this week won further support, from the grassroots disabled women’s organisation WinVisible and film director Ken Loach.
The petition calls for an independent inquiry into deaths linked to DWP failings, and for evidence of criminal misconduct by civil servants or government ministers to be passed to the police.
It also calls for MPs to recognise that DWP is institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose, and for DWP to “urgently change its policies and administration of social security benefits to make the safety of all claimants a priority”.
Because the petition passed 10,000 signatures, the government was forced to respond.
But its response, published this week, ignored key parts of the petition’s demands.
DWP said it had “no plans” to hold an independent inquiry, and that the Independent Case Examiner (ICE) – who found DWP failed five times to follow its own safeguarding rules in the weeks leading up to Whiting’s suicide in February 2017 – “did not find any evidence of misconduct by Civil Servants or Ministers”.
DWP apologised for its failings in her case and said: “Unfortunately, in this instance the expected standard of customer service was not achieved.”
But the response ignored the petition’s reference to the many other deaths that have been closely linked to the actions of ministers and civil servants.
DWP claimed that the safeguarding of claimants was already a priority, that it was “committed to safeguarding vulnerable claimants” and that its staff were “trained to identify signs of vulnerability which may include offering extra help with people’s benefits should they need it”.
But only last week, Disability News Service (DNS) reported how DWP had admitted destroying a damaging internal report about its failure to ensure the safety of benefit claimants in jobcentres, preventing it being released under freedom of information laws.
DWP also failed in its response to comment on the petition’s call for MPs to accept that DWP is institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose.
This week, DNS reports (see separate story) how an employment tribunal found DWP managers had “victimised” a disabled member of staff after she claimed that she had faced workplace discrimination.
And in February, Civil Service figures revealed that the proportion of DWP staff who said they had been victims of disability discrimination at work in the previous 12 months had risen by about 50 per cent in just four years.
Joy Dove, Jodey Whiting’s mother, said the DWP response to the petition was “a joke”, and that her message to DWP was: “You have put everything in your response to the petition that you did not do to safeguard Jodey.
“You killed my daughter by not safeguarding her.”
She added: “They should have practised what they are trying to preach now. They are responsible for Jodey’s death.”
She said she was appalled that the DWP response suggested that the £10,000 ICE ordered DWP to pay the family as a “consolatory payment” was “compensation” for her daughter’s death.
Dove said that £9,000 was given to Jodey’s nine children, while the other £1,000 was used to pay off some of the debts she had built up in paying for her daughter’s funeral.
She said: “It’s not about money. I will carry on. They can’t say it’s settled. I signed nothing. I want justice.”
She is hoping to take legal action against DWP, and she told DNS she wanted to see an inquiry into deaths linked to DWP’s actions, and then criminal prosecutions.
Meanwhile, Loach, whose film I, Daniel Blake has become a cultural rallying point for many disabled activists appalled at the deaths and years of harm caused to benefit claimants by government social security reforms, spoke this week to Dove to express his support for her battle for justice.
That battle is shared by seven other families who have lost relatives because of the failings of DWP ministers and senior civil servants and have backed the petition.
Dove said Loach had spoken to her for nearly an hour and was “lovely”.
He later sent a letter to her, saying that he and his colleagues were “aware of the countless other stories like yours where DWP has shown brutality that has led directly to innocent people suffering, and even death, as with Jodey”.
WinVisible, which supports and campaigns for disabled women, this week added its backing for the petition.
Claire Glasman, from WinVisible, said her organisation was supporting the petition because the way Whiting had had her benefits “cut off” and had not been believed about her illness was “horrific”.
She said: “This callousness is now standard. Every day we work with women with visible and invisible disabilities, distressed and suicidal because they are forced to go through the brutal benefit test system.
“We help them to win benefits on paper evidence, using the info on WinVisible’s blog.
“We can’t bear it that disabled mothers who deserve benefits and support services, are penalised as fit for work by reason of caring for children.
“In benefit cuts, disabled single mother families are doubly hit by the hostility against single mothers and against disabled people, losing up to £11,000 a year.”
WinVisible is adding its support for the petition to that of four other grassroots groups: Black Triangle, Disabled People Against Cuts, Mental Health Resistance Network and WOWcampaign, as well as DNS.
To sign the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, click on this link. If you sign the petition, please note that you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee
Picture: Jodey Whiting