The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) could face a fresh inquest into a claimant’s death on its watch. Her family are hoping to finally expose any role the department played in her taking her own life. But first, the case has to get past the government and the High Court.
The DWP and Jodey Whiting
As The Canary‘s Fréa Lockley previously reported:
Jodey Whiting… [was] a mother and 42 years old when she died. She was penalised for not attending a benefit assessment. Following this, her benefits stopped. She couldn’t attend the assessment because she was seriously ill in hospital.
Whiting lived with various health conditions and mental health issues. Welfare Weekly reported that these included “a brain cyst and curvature of the spine”. It said she “could barely walk to her own front door”. She also lived with bipolar disorder. Whiting took 23 tablets a day for her illnesses and conditions.
She took her own life on 21 February 2017, three days after the DWP gave her her last welfare payment. Then, in May 2017, a coroner failed to consider any role the DWP and its decisions had in her death. But solicitors Leigh Day pointed out in a press release:
a report by an Independent Case Examiner concluded that the DWP had made multiple significant errors in how it treated Jodey. Some of the failings had not been known to Jodey’s family, who were horrified to learn how many failings had occurred in the handling of Jodey’s benefits.
As Disability News Service (DNS) reported, the Independent Case Examiner (ICE) found that the DWP repeatedly failed Whiting. Some of these failures related to safeguarding opportunities it missed. DNS‘s John Pring wrote:
The report by [ICE]… says: ‘In total there have been five opportunities for DWP processes to prompt particular consideration of Jodey’s mental health status and give careful consideration to her case because of it – none of those were taken’.
[It]… concludes that there were ‘multiple failings in the handling of Jodey’s case prior to her suicide’.
According to Leigh Day, which is representing Whiting’s family, the DWP:
- Failed to arrange a home visit for Whiting for her Work Capability Assessment (WCA). Instead, it arranged an appointment at an assessment centre. This was despite Whiting’s request for an assessment at home because she “rarely left the house due to her health”.
- Did not take into consideration Whiting making it aware that she lived with “suicidal thoughts a lot of the time and could not cope with work or looking for work”.
- Stopped Whiting’s Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) payments after she did not attend the WCA.
- Did not complete a Mandatory Reconsideration of its decision to stop Whiting’s ESA until after her death.
Because the DWP stopped Whiting’s ESA, she also lost her Housing Benefit and Council Tax Reduction as well.
A fresh inquest?
Yet despite these multiple failings, the ICE report only made the DWP pay £10,000 compensation to Whiting’s family. No one has legally looked into its role in her death. But this could be about to change.
As Leigh Day said in a press release, Whiting’s family has written to the government’s attorney general. It’s asked permission to apply to the High Court for a fresh inquiry into her death. Her family wants a coroner to look specifically at the DWP’s actions in Whiting’s case.
This new development comes off the back of an independent investigation into her death. As part of this, Leigh Day states a psychiatrist concluded that:
the DWP’s failings would probably have had a substantial effect on Jodey’s mental state at the time she took her own life.
Fighting for justice
Her family now has to wait for the attorney general’s decision. Whiting’s mother Joy Dove said via Leigh Day:
It has been almost three years since Jodey’s death and I am determined to continue to fight for justice. The link between the failings by the DWP and my daughter’s death have never been investigated despite years of trying. I believe that seeking a new inquest is our only avenue to ensure that a thorough investigation is conducted, in which my family and I can participate, into the circumstances of Jodey’s death and the role played by the DWP failings. This has the potential to help not just my family, but also all the others badly affected by poor decision making by the DWP.
The Canary asked the DWP for comment. It directed us to its previous statement, saying its position had not changed.
If the attorney general grants Whiting’s family a fresh inquest, the impact could be groundbreaking. This is because she is one of thousands of people who died after the DWP declared them “fit for work” or stopped their payments. Her tragic case may be a catalyst for more grieving families to seek accountability from the DWP for its actions.
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