MPs have been asked why they are failing to speak out to back calls for a police investigation into alleged criminal misconduct by ministers and civil servants that may have led to the deaths of benefit claimants.
The Justice for Jodey Whiting petition* calls for an independent inquiry into deaths linked to failings by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), and for any 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”.
Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens – and now the SNP, although it does not accept that DWP is institutionally disablist – have all backed the petition, but no MP appears to have spoken publicly yet of the need for evidence of criminal misconduct to be passed to police.
The only such comments from a politician appear to have come from Jonathan Bartley, the co-leader of the Greens, who is not an MP, but has made it clear that he believes DWP has “blood on its hands”.
Disabled activists have now questioned why MPs have been so reluctant to mention this key element of the petition, and they have called on them to speak out about the need for justice for those who have died.
Eight families of disabled people whose deaths have been linked to DWP failings have so far backed the petition, and its call for any evidence of criminal misconduct that comes from an inquiry to be passed to police.
Denise McKenna, co-founder of the Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN), said: “MHRN is determined that there will eventually be a criminal investigation into benefit deaths, however long we have to wait.
“There is a huge amount of evidence that many deaths have been a direct result of the actions of the DWP following the policies of this government.
“Are those who are implicated in these deaths above the law? Are there people in government and government departments who can do whatever harm they want with impunity?
“Disabled people will fight for such an investigation; we will continue to do so even if it takes years to get one.
“It seems strange and sad that MPs have not been calling for this to happen now.
“Why drag this out for disabled people and the families of those who have lost their loved ones?
“MHRN want MPs to act now to make this investigation happen as soon as possible. Why should we have to wait any longer for what is inevitable?”
Bob Ellard, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), said: “Enough MPs know about the harm and death caused by the hostile environment against disabled people perpetrated by this government, but why haven’t they joined the supporters of the Jodey Whiting petition in calling for a criminal investigation?
“Disabled people will be watching for MPs to join the call for a criminal investigation, and we’ll be watching who remains silent.”
John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, said: “While MPs busy themselves obsessing with the ludicrous fiasco that is ‘Brexit’ we should like to remind them that sick and disabled people’s lives are being crushed under the weight of systems and policies that are driving disabled people into destitution, hunger, rent arrears, homelessness and, tragically, suicide.
“This, too, requires their urgent, immediate, and undivided attention.
“We think that it is unconscionable that we should be forced to jump through hoops to obtain the help and support that we have a right to expect from our elected representatives in the face of such a humanitarian catastrophe.”
Laura Stringhetti, of the WOWcampaign, said: “For the past nine years, we have heard of far too many deaths caused by the failings of the DWP.
“Each of these deaths has left heartbroken families and friends behind.
“Yet nothing has changed; on the contrary, with universal credit things are getting even worse.
“The WOW Campaign believes that an independent inquiry into all the deaths linked to the DWP is needed; we must know if there has been any misconduct and we would like to see more MPs speaking out on this matter.
“We have the feeling that a potential criminal investigation might sound extreme to some MPs but we strongly believe that we owe it to the victims and their families to find the truth of what happened and if there is a culture of negligence and victimisation in the DWP, this must be addressed now before we have any more unnecessary suffering.”
The petition is backed by five grassroots groups: Black Triangle, DPAC, MHRN, the WOW Campaign and WinVisible, as well as Disability News Service.
Among the relatives backing the petition is Peter Carré, whose son Stephen took his own life in January 2010 after being found fit for work following a work capability assessment (WCA), with DWP failing to ask his GP or psychiatrist for further medical evidence that would have proved his eligibility.
His son’s death led to a coroner writing to DWP, just before the 2010 general election, warning that the “trigger” for Stephen’s decision to take his own life had been the decision to find him fit for work, and telling DWP to take action to prevent any further such deaths.
The coroner called for a review by DWP of “the decision not to seek medical advice from the claimant’s own GP or psychiatrist” if they have a mental health condition.
But Tory ministers failed to act on the coroner’s letter – or to produce a proper reply, despite their legal duty to do so – and instead pushed ahead with plans to reassess hundreds of thousands of people on old-style incapacity benefit through the WCA.
Research would later show that this use of the WCA to reassess claimants of incapacity benefit was “associated with” hundreds of suicides.
*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