Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people has dispelled any doubts about Labour’s support for the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, making it clear that she backs every one of its demands.
Marsha de Cordova said this week that she backs everything the petition calls for, including an inquiry into links between the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the deaths of disabled benefit claimants, and for any evidence of criminal misconduct by ministers and civil servants to be passed to the police.
The petition has now been signed by more than 25,000 people in less than three weeks. If the petition secures 100,000 signatures it should be debated in the House of Commons.
The need for evidence of criminal misconduct to be passed to police is a key demand of the petition, following years of evidence that the actions of senior DWP figures, including ministers, have been clearly linked to the deaths of disabled people.
The call for a police investigation has been strongly backed by the eight families who have supported the petition.
De Cordova, who has been prominent this week in highlighting the government’s continuing failure to appoint a new minister for disabled people following the resignation of Sarah Newton, said: “I support each of the demands of this petition.
“There is an urgent need for an independent inquiry into these deaths and I will write to the minister asking for one. It is not enough for the department to be its own judge and jury.
“The DWP is not fit for purpose and has failed disabled people with tragic consequences. Their families and friends deserve answers.
“It is shameful that the DWP continues to ignore the impact that its policies are having.
“The government must immediately scrap the cruel and callous assessment framework for ESA and PIP and punitive sanctions regime, which has created a hostile environment for disabled people.”
The petition was launched following the death of Jodey Whiting (pictured) and is set up in her name, with the backing of Black Triangle, Disabled People Against Cuts, Mental Health Resistance Network and WOWcampaign, as well as DNS.
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 in February.
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. She took her own life just 15 days later.
There has also been strong support for the petition this week from Disability Labour, which represents disabled members of the party.
Fran Springfield, its co-chair, said Disability Labour supported all four of the petition’s demands.
She said: “The way the DWP treats disabled claimants is to disbelieve us, lie and use bad language about us on forms and fail to take notice when we report feeling suicidal.
“Yes, the DWP is institutionally disablist and it has not been fit for purpose since Iain Duncan Smith’s time as DWP secretary.
“We totally support the need for urgent action on safety. There should be an inquiry and if that shows misconduct or misfeasance in public office, the law must take its course.”
Wayne Blackburn, her fellow co-chair, pointed to DWP’s “appalling record” on how it treats its own staff.
He highlighted a DNS report last year which revealed that the Employment Tribunal had dealt with almost 60 claims of disability discrimination taken against DWP by its own staff over a 20-month period, which he said was “utterly disgraceful”.
Springfield added: “Disability Labour believes that the most important result of [an inquiry]should be that legislation and systems are put in place to ensure that deaths such as Jodey’s never happen again.
“The DWP in its current state is clearly no longer fit for purpose. It must be radically reformed.”
To sign the 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
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