The mother of a woman who killed herself after being wrongly found “fit for work” has pledged to continue her campaign for justice, and for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to admit it was to blame for her daughter’s death.
The case of mother-of-nine Jodey Whiting, from Stockton, was highlighted this week after a disabled activist mentioned her name as he heckled work and pensions Esther McVey while she gave evidence (listen from 52 minutes) to the Scottish parliament’s social security committee (see separate story).
The activist, David*, told McVey: “What about Jodey Whiting, mother of nine, who committed suicide after her ESA was stopped?
“It was stopped because she missed an appointment.”
It is the latest in a string of distressing and tragic deaths that have been linked over the last eight years to the government’s social security reforms, and particularly to employment and support allowance, the out-of-work disability benefit, and its eligibility test, the work capability assessment (WCA).
Jodey Whiting’s mother, Joy Dove, who herself receives ESA as a result of a number of health conditions, has been campaigning for justice for her daughter – including through a petition on the 38 Degrees website – and for an admission of blame from DWP.
Her daughter (pictured with her children) took her own life last year after being told she had been found fit for work.
She had missed a WCA appointment on 16 January 2017 because she was in hospital being treated for a brain cyst. It later emerged that the letter telling her about the appointment had been waiting for her at home, unopened.
DWP refused to back down, even after she wrote back explaining that she had been in hospital and had had pneumonia and had been receiving treatment for the cyst. She also had a number of other health conditions.
But despite the evidence she provided, DWP refused to give her another appointment to attend a WCA and confirmed that she had been found fit for work and would lose her ESA.
She was told she would receive her last fortnight’s ESA payment on 17 February.
She visited Citizens Advice, and an advisor wrote to DWP on 15 February 2017 to ask for another WCA appointment, but she took her own life six days later, just four days after her final ESA payment.
Her mother is also angry with DWP because the department sent a letter to her daughter about her claim after it had been told she had taken her own life, and continued to call Jodey’s phone and leave voicemail messages for her for more than two months.
Her complaints will be investigated by the Independent Case Examiner.
Her mother told Disability News Service (DNS) last night (Wednesday) that she was determined to secure justice for her daughter.
She said she remembered her crying as she told her she had lost her ESA, and asking her: “What am I going to do, mum?”
“I said, ‘Don’t worry, we will sort it out,’ but she never replied. I think it just wore her down.”
She said she was delighted that David had raised her daughter’s case so publicly during McVey’s evidence session on Monday.
He had told her in advance of his plan to confront McVey, and when she later heard the recording of him mentioning her daughter’s name in the committee hearing, she said: “I just felt great.”
It is moments like that that motivated her to continue with her campaign, she said.
“I am so grateful to him. I am really pleased he did it.”
She told DNS she would continue with her campaign for justice.
She said: “I have kept strong for my daughter, but I am heartbroken, I always will be.”
If she had had the chance to confront McVey, she said, “I would have broken down and said, ‘Look, you had no right [to treat my daughter like this].’
“It’s all wrong. It has got to stop. They can’t keep doing this to people.”
A DWP spokeswoman said: “We have apologised to the family for attempting to contact Ms Whiting after her death.
“The Independent Case Examiner (ICE) is an independent office holder.
“As such, the DWP cannot comment on the work or decisions taken by the ICE.
“We will carefully consider the findings of the ICE.
“Suicide is a very complex issue, so it would be wrong to link it solely to anyone’s benefit claim.”
*He has asked for his full name not to be used