The twin brother of a man who killed himself after being told he was ineligible for two disability benefits has backed calls for an inquiry into links between the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and deaths of benefit claimants.
DWP had been told the man, Michael*, from the West Midlands, was depressed and suicidal, in addition to his recent sight loss, but still found him fit for work.
He was also found ineligible for personal independence payment (PIP), with the letters rejecting his two benefit applications arriving within days of each other.
Michael’s brother, Adam*, had filled in the employment and support allowance (ESA) claim form on his behalf, and had made it clear his twin was severely depressed and suicidal, following sight loss that had led to him losing his job as a highly-skilled mechanic working on HGVs months earlier.
But Adam says DWP ignored that information and made no attempt to ensure his safety when it sent the two letters, one after the other, telling him he was losing his entitlement to ESA – which he had been granted while he was being assessed – and that he would not be entitled to PIP.
About 10 days after receiving the two letters, Michael took his own life.
Within about a week of his funeral, DWP wrote to Michael’s widow to admit that he had been entitled to both benefits after all – including the enhanced levels of both daily living and mobility on PIP – and telling her she would receive £7,000 in backpayments.
Adam sent letters raising concerns about his brother’s case to DWP – telling the department that the decisions it made had “played a significant part in my brother’s taking his own life” – and work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, but received no reply to either of them.
It is the first time the family have spoken to the media since Michael’s death in February 2015.
The Jodey Whiting 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”.
By this morning, the petition had secured more than 25,000 signatures in less than three weeks. If it reaches 100,000 it should be debated by MPs in the House of Commons.
Adam said he supported the petition and believed DWP was not fit for purpose “without a shadow of a doubt”.
He said an inquiry was “not going to bring Michael back but it can make it better for other people”.
He said he came forward because he wanted to speak out about his brother, who he says was “another person let down by the broken benefit system”.
Adam, who is also disabled himself and previously set up a disability support organisation in their home town, said: “They took his benefits away. He got nothing, he was destitute. They didn’t tell him where he could go, where there were any support agencies.
“I filled in his ESA form and I told them that he was depressed and suicidal. They knew that.”
He and Michael served in the army together.
Adam said: “It’s now four years gone by but it’s as if it was yesterday. I miss him every day. He was my soulmate.”
Michael’s family have now become the eighth to support the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, which is also backed by the grassroots groups Black Triangle, Disabled People Against Cuts, Mental Health Resistance Network and WOWcampaign, as well as DNS.
A DWP spokesperson refused to apologise for the department’s failings in the case, or to explain why DWP changed its mind about Michael’s eligibility for ESA and PIP so soon after his death.
She also refused to say why DWP and Duncan Smith failed to respond to Adam’s two letters after his brother died, and whether DWP accepted Adam’s view that its failings played a significant part in his brother’s death.
But she said in a statement: “The department has received a petition relating to benefit claimants who have sadly died, and will respond to this shortly so we can’t pre-empt that.
“Obviously any suicide is a very complex and tragic issue, and we can’t attribute any specific one cause to [Michael’s] case.
“Our sympathies are with [his] family.
“We are committed to safeguarding vulnerable claimants and we keep our safeguarding guidance under constant review to ensure we provide the highest standard of protection.
“Where any failings on specific cases have been identified, we have addressed these to ensure they are not repeated.”
*Names have been changed at his widow’s request
To sign the 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