Accountability

Thousands are calling for an independent inquiry into DWP-related deaths

25th March 2019

As the petition to revoke Article 50 reaches toward six million signatures — a record for the government’s e-petition portal — it’s worth checking out another, perhaps more worthwhile, petition that you can sign too while you’re there.

Titled Justice for Jodey Whiting. Independent inquiry into deaths linked to the DWP, the petition calls for an independent inquiry into all deaths linked to the Department for Work and Pensions’ actions.

If an inquiry finds evidence of misconduct on the part of civil servants or Ministers, this should be turned over to the police, the petition states. 

The petition also calls for an acknowledgement that the DWP is “institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose” and for the department to “change its policies and administration of social security benefits to make the safety of all claimants a priority”.  

The petition was set up in response to the death of Jodey Whiting, who took her own life in February 2017, just 15 days after her out-of-work disability benefits were stopped as a result of her missing a Work Capability Assessment. Whiting had missed the appointment as she was in hospital receiving treatment at the time.

An independent investigation into her death found that the DWP had failed to follow its own safeguarding guidelines five times in the build-up to Whiting’s death. The DWP was ordered to pay £10,000 to Whiting’s family over its handling of the case.

There are thousands and thousands of other people who are affected

Relatives of seven disabled people who all died after dealing with the Department for Work and Pensions’ mistakes and failings have come out to publicly support the calls for an independent inquiry. Hayley Storrow-Servranckx, the daughter of Susan Roberts who died in 2016, told Disability News Service (DNS) that thousands of deaths have been “swept under the carpet” and said: “It’s not just my mum. There are thousands and thousands of other people – including other members of my own family – who are affected.”

The petition is also backed by a number of leading disability activist groups; Black Triangle, Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN), WOWcampaign and DNS.

Bob Ellard, DPAC steering group member, said: “We’ve witnessed the DWP operate a hostile environment towards benefit claimants which has caused hardship, distress, humiliation and destitution for hundreds of thousands of people. We have seen too many cases where this hostile environment has led to death through suicide, starvation or through people not being able to access essential medicines.

“This harmful regime must end and the people responsible must be held to account through an open public inquiry, in order that loved ones of those who died can receive some justice and closure.”

Launched 15 March, the petition has at present amassed over 17,000 signatures, meaning it has passed the 10,000 signature threshold needed to secure a government response, but many more will be needed in order to secure a debate in Parliament, the threshold for which is 100,000 signatures. The petition will be open until 15 September.

Responding to the petition, a DWP spokesperson said: “We are committed to safeguarding vulnerable claimants and, in the tragic case where someone dies, ensuring that we respond swiftly and sensitively.

“We have changed guidance so that our staff update a claim where someone has died within 48 hours, making sure we stop all unnecessary contact as quickly as possible. And we have robust safeguarding in place to protect and support vulnerable people, including the resource to carry out safeguarding visits.”

25th March 2019