Disabled activists and allies will hold a silent vigil outside the Royal Courts of Justice on Tuesday to mark the latest stage in the fight for a second inquest into the death of Jodey Whiting.
Joy Dove, Jodey’s mother, has been fighting for justice for her daughter for nearly six years, and remains convinced that the actions of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) pushed her to take her own life.
The mother-of-nine and grandmother, from Stockton-on-Tees, took her own life in February 2017, 15 days after her employment and support allowance (ESA) was mistakenly stopped by DWP for missing a work capability assessment.
The first inquest into her death lasted just 37 minutes, but no evidence was taken on DWP’s role in causing her death.
Her mother had tried to raise concerns about her daughter’s death with the coroner’s office, arguing in two letters that she believed DWP played a key part in her daughter’s decision to take her own life.
Dove’s letters were read out at the inquest and she gave brief oral evidence, but there was no probing of DWP’s role in the death by the coroner, and there were no DWP witnesses.
The coroner mentioned the ESA claim and the family’s concerns, but said it was not the inquest’s role to investigate or comment upon DWP’s failings, or to question its decisions.
Although she ruled that Jodey Whiting had taken her own life, there was no criticism of DWP.
Dove (pictured) has now spent years fighting for a second inquest that would investigate the impact of DWP’s failings.
When the case reached the high court 19 months ago, DWP claimed Jodey Whiting’s death was not part of a widespread “systemic” problem, despite years of evidence to the contrary.
This includes nearly a decade of high-profile tragedies, legal cases, campaigns, research, protests, television exposés, parliamentary debates, and reports by MPs and other organisations into deaths linked to the department’s “fitness for work” regime.
Evidence of the systemic flaws within DWP’s benefits systems has continued to emerge since the hearing.
Last September, Disability News Service reported how a disabled woman whose body was found in her flat months after all her benefits had been removed had been hounded for years by DWP.
Last November, DNS reported how another disabled woman who was left traumatised by the daily demands of universal credit took her own life, just four days after being told she would need to attend a face-to-face meeting with a work coach.
And this week (see separate story), DNS is reporting how the deaths of scores of claimants in the last three years have been linked to persistent, systemic flaws in the way their benefits have been managed by DWP.
A document, released by DWP following a freedom of information request, shows numerous deaths of claimants have been linked to flaws in the universal credit, complaints, personal independence payment (PIP) and work capability assessment systems.
The document lists recommendations made by secret DWP internal process reviews (IPRs) that were completed between 1 September 2020 and 14 November 2022 following the deaths of 46 claimants.
On Tuesday (31 January), a two-day appeal will begin into the high court’s decision not to grant a second inquest into Jodey Whiting’s death. The hearing can be watched online.
Disabled People Against Cuts has organised a silent vigil that will take place outside London’s Royal Courts of Justice on Tuesday, from 9.15am, with those attending asked to wear dark clothes and bring a white flower.
Joy Dove told DNS today (Thursday) that she was pleased and grateful that disabled activists were holding the vigil.
She said: “It’s a really good tribute to Jodey. It will mean that it’s not just me on my own, because I know that other people are fighting for rights for everyone.
“I feel extremely privileged to have them there and thank them very much.”
She said she still could not believe how many people have supported her fight for justice over the last six years.
She said she would not give up her fight. “It’s just the same as when I started. I need to carry it on.”
Asked if she had ever stopped feeling that DWP was to blame for Jodey’s death, she said: “No, and I never will.”
She also continues to back calls for a public inquiry into deaths linked to DWP’s actions.
She said earlier this week: “I have always been convinced that the original inquest into Jodey’s death just did not sufficiently answer the questions about how Jodey came by her death and I have always been convinced that the DWP decision to cancel her benefits was a key factor in Jodey’s decision to end her own life.
“The DWP’s actions and lack of action has now been described as shocking, yet the impact on Jodey and my belief that this caused her death has never been investigated and I want a second inquest to do that.
“I was devastated by the high court’s decision and I am grateful that there will be a Court of Appeal hearing.
“I am looking forward to the hearing and trust the judges to make the just and right decision when they have heard the arguments from my legal team.”
Her solicitor, Merry Varney, a partner in Leigh Day’s human rights department, said: “It is beyond doubt that the Department for Work and Pensions acted woefully in their administration of and ultimately cancellation of Jodey’s benefits, and we hope the Court of Appeal will agree it is necessary in the interests of justice for there to be a second inquest into Jodey’s death.”
DWP does not comment on ongoing legal cases.
A note from the editor:
Please consider making a voluntary financial contribution to support the work of DNS and allow it to continue producing independent, carefully-researched news stories that focus on the lives and rights of disabled people and their user-led organisations.
Please do not contribute if you cannot afford to do so, and please note that DNS is not a charity. It is run and owned by disabled journalist John Pring and has been from its launch in April 2009.
Thank you for anything you can do to support the work of DNS…