Relatives of six disabled people who died due to Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) failings have backed a new petition to MPs that calls for an independent inquiry into deaths linked to the department’s actions.

The petition – backed by four leading grassroots groups of disabled activists, and Disability News Service (DNS) – says such an inquiry should also investigate potential misconduct by ministers and civil servants.

And it says that any evidence of misconduct contributing to serious harm or deaths of benefit claimants should be passed to the police for a possible criminal investigation.

The petition* – Justice for Jodey Whiting. Independent inquiry into deaths linked to the DWP – brands DWP “institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose”.

And it calls on DWP to “urgently change its policies and administration of social security benefits to make the safety of all claimants a priority”.

The petition has been set up on parliament’s petitions website.

If it reaches 100,000 signatures, it will be considered for debate by MPs in the House of Commons.

The petition was launched following the death of Jodey Whiting and is set up in her name, with the backing of Black Triangle, Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN), WOWcampaign and DNS.

DWP failed five times to follow its own safeguarding rules in the weeks leading up to Jodey Whiting’s suicide in February 2017, an independent investigation found last month.

She had had her out-of-work disability benefits stopped for missing a work capability assessment (WCA) and took her own life just 15 days later.

The Independent Case Examiner (ICE) concluded that DWP was guilty of “multiple” and “significant” failings in handling her case.

Her case was mentioned in this week’s prime minister’s questions, after a question from her mother’s MP, Dr Paul Williams.

Her mother, Joy Dove, is supporting the petition.

She said she hoped the ICE findings would “open the floodgates for everyone to stand up and get this issue sorted through parliament”.

Relatives of other families who have lost loved ones as a result of DWP failings are also backing the petition.

Peter Carré, whose son Stephen took his own life in January 2010 after being found fit for work following a WCA – with DWP failing to ask his GP or psychiatrist for further medical evidence that would have proved his eligibility – has backed the petition and the need for a criminal investigation and an independent inquiry.

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.

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.

Carré said he believed the law had “consistently been ignored”, and he added: “Failure to take note of and act on the coroner’s recommendations has undoubtedly resulted in many deaths since that time.”

Eleanor Donnachie, who herself has experienced suicidal thoughts and tried to take her own life as a result of the WCA process, lost her brother Paul to suicide after his employment and support allowance was removed because he failed to turn up for a WCA.

It is believed that DWP failed to contact Paul’s GP to ask for detailed information about his mental health, and – as in Jodey Whiting’s case – ignored its own safeguarding guidance by failing to talk to him face-to-face about his support needs.

She said she wanted to see a criminal investigation and an inquiry.

She said: “It’s as if they can do what they like and nothing applies to them.

“If I go anywhere to do with DWP that brings it all back and I can feel myself getting angry, really angry, and I want to shout at them, ‘Look, you have killed my brother and now you’re trying to kill me.’”

Jill Gant, whose son Mark Wood starved to death after he was found “fit for work” and lost his out-of-work disability benefits, said she felt she had to support the petition.

Her key concern is DWP’s refusal to ensure that its decision-makers have access to the necessary medical evidence when someone applying for ESA (or universal credit) has not provided evidence of their own.

She told DNS: “I’m glad you’re doing it on behalf of people like Mark.

“It’s very important that something is done. I support the cause and I certainly put my name to it.”

Another relative, David Barr, said he wanted to see former work and pensions ministers Iain Duncan Smith and Chris Grayling held accountable for the death of his son, also called David, who had a long-standing mental health condition.

He took his own life in August 2013 after a physiotherapist took just 35 minutes to carry out a face-to-face assessment that led to him being found fit for work.

It is believed that neither the assessor, nor the DWP decision-maker who rubber-stamped that decision, made any attempt to secure further medical evidence from his GP, his psychiatric nurse or his psychiatrist.

His father said: “It’s got to come to an end. They have got to start looking after people. In this day and age we should be doing more.”

A sixth relative supporting the petition is Gill Thompson.

Her brother, David Clapson, died in July 2013 as a result of an acute lack of insulin, three weeks after having his jobseeker’s allowance sanctioned.

Because he had no money, he couldn’t afford to pay for electricity that would have kept the fridge where he kept his insulin working, in the height of summer, and he had also run out of food.

She said: “They have to stop this. I would like to see a legal case whether David’s name was mentioned or not.

“They have to be held accountable. I can’t change what has happened to me, but this should not be happening.

“These are avoidable deaths. I still feel that now as strongly as ever.”

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, said he and fellow campaigners “did our utmost” to persuade the criminal justice system in Scotland to open an investigation into work and pensions ministers but had been given no reason for its refusal to do so.

He said: “It’s clear that the dereliction of duty on the part of ministers is still leading to the deaths of claimants, as we said at the time.

“Until this matter is addressed, people will continue to suffer catastrophic avoidable harm.

“We call upon the police service to take our allegations seriously and to make a thorough investigation into the facts of the case.”

Bob Ellard, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, said: “DPAC fully supports this petition. We believe that these are vital issues that must be debated in parliament.

“The reign of terror brought about by this government’s hostile environment towards claimants is causing distress and severe hardship to millions of innocent people, and has resulted in the deaths of too many claimants.”

He added: “The DWP itself is a failing organisation which is chaotic and error-prone in its operation. It is currently not fit for purpose and needs a complete overhaul.”

Denise McKenna, co-founder of MHRN, said: “Survivors of the DWP are acutely aware that some lives do not matter and some institutions are deemed to be above accountability.

“Ministers and civil servants responsible for the DWP have known for years that their practices are implicated in numerous deaths yet they continue with the same practices, seemingly safe in the knowledge that they can get away with any level of cruelty and incompetence.

“The deaths will only stop if there is rigorous implementation of safeguarding practices which the DWP has shown time and again that it cannot be trusted to put in place or to observe.

“MHRN supports this petition; it is surely right that safeguarding is enshrined in DWP practices and that ministers and civil servants are brought to book for the lives they have destroyed, just as anyone else implicated in numerous deaths would be held to account.”

A WOWcampaign spokesperson said: “WOWcampaign has been fighting for seven years to get this government to show a duty of care to disabled children and adults in the UK by assessing the impact of all disability cuts, as called for by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the UN.

“We are keen to support this petition demanding justice for Jodey Whiting as her treatment and the many voices giving testimony to the despair, poverty and humiliation caused by government welfare reforms, published on WOWvoices.uk, reinforce the devastating impact of these policies, and the urgent need for something to change.

“We would like to see an independent enquiry into the effect of government welfare policy and a police enquiry into alleged misconduct in public office.

“There has to be Justice for Jodey and the countless others whose lives have been devastated by government policy.”

Samaritans can be contacted free, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, by calling 116 123 or emailing jo@samaritans.org

*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 committee

15 March 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) failed five times to follow its own safeguarding rules in the weeks leading up to the suicide of a disabled woman with a long history of mental distress, an independent investigation has found.

The Independent Case Examiner (ICE) concluded that DWP was guilty of “multiple” and “significant” failings in handling the case of mother-of-nine Jodey Whiting, who had her out-of-work disability benefits stopped for missing a work capability assessment (WCA), and took her own life just 15 days later.

The report is the latest evidence of the institutional failure of DWP to guarantee the safety of disabled people – and particularly those with a history of mental distress – within the “fitness for work” system.

DWP has accepted the report’s findings.

Whiting’s mother, Joy Dove, has now called for DWP and those staff responsible to face a criminal investigation for the failures that led to the death of her much-loved daughter, who she described as a “lovely, caring, thoughtful” person who adored her children and grandchildren.

She said her daughter had died a “martyr” and that campaigners were right to say that the Tory government had created a “hostile environment for disabled people”.

The 42-year-old had been taking 23 tablets a day at the time she died, for conditions including scoliosis and bipolar disorder, and had been taking morphine twice daily.

She had been a long-time claimant of incapacity benefit, and then employment and support allowance (ESA), and DWP and its assessors had previously noted the severity of her mental health condition, and the risk that would be posed if she was found fit for work.

When she was approached again for another assessment in the autumn of 2016, she told DWP about her suicidal thoughts and requested a home assessment as she said she rarely left the house.

But even though a “flag” was placed on DWP’s ESA system to alert staff that she was a “vulnerable” claimant because of her mental health condition, DWP failed to refer her request for a home visit to Maximus, the company that carries out WCAs on its behalf.

Maximus also failed to act on her request, even though it had been included in the ESA50 form she had filled out.

But this was just the first of five serious failings by DWP in the weeks leading up to her death, the ICE report has concluded.

Whiting, from Stockton, Teesside, failed to open a letter asking her to attend a face-to-face assessment on 16 January 2017, and so missed the WCA.

She had been ill with pneumonia and receiving hospital treatment for a cyst on the brain and had been taking painkillers which affected her ability to cope with correspondence.

DWP’s safeguarding procedures say the department should contact vulnerable claimants by telephone if they miss their assessment, but the ICE investigation found no evidence that this had been done.

It should also consider a safeguarding visit to the claimant’s home, but again there was no evidence this was done, the ICE report says.

After receiving a letter asking her to explain her failure to attend the WCA, Whiting told DWP that she had not received the letter about the assessment and explained about her pneumonia and hospital treatment.

She said her GP wanted the department to write to the surgery so the doctor could provide detailed information about her health.

But DWP failed to write to the GP, its fourth failure to protect Jodey Whiting from serious harm.

On 6 February, a DWP decision-maker wrote to Whiting to say that she had provided no proof of the pneumonia and failing to receive the letter about the assessment and so her ESA would be stopped.

But the decision-maker appears to have failed to consider her mental health history in making that decision, says ICE.

This was DWP’s fifth separate failure to follow its own safeguarding guidance.

Whiting phoned DWP to protest the decision to stop her ESA and then an adviser from Citizen’s Advice wrote to DWP on her behalf on 15 February to explain the situation and request another assessment, and explained that she had been given a foodbank voucher.

DWP claims it never received this letter.

Six days later, on 21 February 2017 – two years ago today – Jodey Whiting took her own life. Her body was discovered by her mother.

The report by the Independent Case Examiner, Joanna Wallace, 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.”

She concludes that there were “multiple failings in the handling of Jodey’s case prior to her suicide”.

Wallace’s report, addressed to Jodey Whiting’s mother, adds: “I find it extremely disappointing that in investigating the complaints you have raised, we have seen that DWP have either failed to investigate, or failed to acknowledge, the extent of events in Jodey’s case.

“As such the facts of the case have not been made clear to you and no appropriate apology has been made.”

DWP has agreed to the ICE recommendation that it should pay £10,000 to the family as a “consolatory” payment for its “repeated failures to follow their safeguarding procedures” and other failings that took place after her death (see separate story).

Joy Dove, who has campaigned for justice – including through her Justice for Jodey petition – said her daughter had “died a martyr”.

She said: “I hope she has not died in vain.”

She said the way DWP had treated her daughter showed that campaigners have been right to accuse the Tory government of creating a “hostile environment for disabled people”.

She said she cried when she read the ICE report because she believes it vindicates her belief that DWP was responsible for her daughter’s death.

Now she wants to see DWP itself and the staff responsible for her daughter’s death face a criminal investigation.

She said: “What they have done is criminal. They had all the information in front of them. Five times they failed.

“I would like to see them charged, all of them who had anything to do with Jodey’s case.

“I’m not frightened of them. They can do what they want.”

She said she was grateful to ICE for its report exposing DWP’s serious failings, and now wants to see changes by DWP to prevent another death like her daughter’s.

She said her own health had suffered because of what happened to her daughter – she herself is an ESA claimant – and the struggle to secure justice for her, and that she had fallen into debt because of her efforts to provide a fitting funeral for her daughter in 2017.

Despite those financial struggles, part of her sees the £10,000 as “blood money” and wants it to go to charity.

Jodey’s nine children are now aged between 18 and 27. She had six grandchildren at the time she died. Another four have been born since she died.

She said: “They have been denied their grandmother. She loved her grandchildren and she never met four of them.”

She thanked Citizen’s Advice in Stockton, whose staff have worked on the case for two years.

She also thanked all those who have supported the family over the last two years, including strangers who have contacted her through social media and shared their own experiences of other cases in which DWP’s policies and procedures have led to the deaths of disabled benefit claimants.

A DWP spokesperson refused to say if the department accepted that its own safeguarding failings had helped cause Jodey Whiting’s death.

And she refused to say if the five separate failings in just one case showed it was time for DWP to accept that it had a serious institutional problem around the safeguarding of vulnerable benefit claimants.

But she said in a statement: “We apologise to Ms Whiting’s family for the failings in how we handled her case and the distress this caused them.

“Our thoughts are with them at this difficult time and we are providing compensation.

“We fully accept the Independent Case Examiner’s findings and are reviewing our procedures to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

A Maximus spokesperson said: “We offer our sincere sympathies to the family of Ms Whiting at this difficult time.

“[Maximus] will examine the ICE report in detail to understand what lessons can be learnt.

“We always review the capability for work questionnaire and any accompanying medical evidence to establish if a face-to-face assessment is required.

“This includes consideration of whether an individual is able to attend an assessment centre by public transport or taxi.”

Samaritans can be contacted free, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, by calling 116 123 or emailing jo@samaritans.org

21 February 2019: News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

A Message from Sandra Wheatley, Chair – Disability North.

Happy New Year to you – our service users/clients; our supporters and funders and valued volunteers.

At this point of the new year we as an organisation, as well as a board of trustees, are at a pivotal-point. As we moved from 2018 into 2019, we said goodbye to trustees who have served the organisation for many years, Toby Brandon, Malcolm Macourt, Tim Williams and Joe Ayton. They will be missed. We welcomed new Trustees who will, I’m sure bring their experience and expertise to strengthen the existing Board. Some of the trustee pen-portraits are now on-site, with more to come soon. I am really looking forward to serving Disability North as Chair of Trustees alongside such incredibly talented and dedicated people.

Disability North has undergone many changes during the past year – no organisation is immune from change and it is never easy to say goodbye to valued staff members too. It is our staff who are Disability North’s greatest asset and each one will continue to make an immense difference to every person who seeks the advice and support; guidance and advocacy we have provided for over 30 years. Our staff really are the best of the best and I want to emphasise how proud I am of our excellent reputation and the dedication, commitment and enthusiasm of each member of staff, and for the leadership and example Victoria Armstrong shows as our CEO. Her professionalism, expertise and dedication have once again proved to be invaluable during 2018.

As we move into a new year it is that opportunity to embrace just what ‘new’ means that excites me. Innovation, change, originality, and uniqueness – all elements of what Disability North is, and will continue to be, and what the new year will bring as we grasp the potential to innovate and change. We will further develop our services to ensure we keep abreast of the myriad of changes to the welfare benefits system.

We will continue to inform and educate those who will listen, and some who need to; to raise awareness that disabled people may be more visible in today’s society, thanks to changes in legislation (DDA1995) and more recently the Equality Act 2010, but our voice, their voice, still needs to be heard. We will challenge the injustices of the welfare system and we will continue to promote inclusion, independence and choice as we have done for decades. We will champion the role of carers and families who support and care for those affected by any disability, mental health issue, learning disabilities or are marginalised due to impairment.

Our work isn’t done – we do have incredibly dedicated and experienced staff who do have the support and backing of an equally dedicated board of trustees who will ensure that, whatever the challenges or changes we face, we will continue to provide a service that is second to none to the people of Newcastle upon Tyne and beyond.

This platform will highlight and showcase our achievements and services throughout the year. So, watch this space – there are exciting times ahead!

Sandra Wheatley signature

Campaigning disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) have set out their demands for a new national independent living service that would eliminate the postcode lottery in support, and finally make the right to independent living a reality.

The Independent Living for the Future document has been developed over the last 14 months under the banner of the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA), whose members include Disabled People Against Cuts, Inclusion London, People First (Self Advocacy), Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, The Alliance for Inclusive Education and Shaping Our Lives.

ROFA will now seek support for the document from its members, political parties, disabled people, DPOs and other organisations.

Independent Living for the Future is based on principles laid out in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Article 19 of the convention describes how countries signed up to the convention – like the UK – must recognise the right of all disabled people “to live in the community, with choices equal to others”.

The new document describes how the rights in article 19 could be upheld through a new national independent living service, which would build on “what was most successful” about the former Independent Living Fund.

The new service would be “co-created between government and disabled people, funded through general taxation, managed by central government, led by disabled people, and delivered locally in co-production with disabled people”, says the document.

It would be free, non-means-tested and “provided on the basis of need, not profit”.

There would also be funding for DPOs to deliver local services, ensuring a range of options to support disabled people to live in the community and exercise choice and control over their support.

Priorities would include setting up a new independent living taskforce, led by disabled people, to develop plans for the service; and agreeing how to introduce a legal right to independent living, including an independent living bill of rights.

There would also be a need, says the new document, to educate the public about the benefits of investing in independent living support for disabled people.

The document also calls for the government’s Office for Disability Issues to be moved out of the Department for Work and Pensions and placed within either the Cabinet Office or the Government Equalities Office.

And it says there should be a strategy for investment in local user-led services alongside the closure of institutionalised, segregated settings including long-stay hospitals and assessment and treatment units.

The document points out that government austerity cuts have had “serious adverse impacts” on the rights contained in article 19, with the social care and mental health systems in crisis and disabled people’s rights being taken “dramatically backwards”.

It says that grassroots campaigning by disabled people since 2010 has focused heavily on the right to independent living, partly because activists are so proud of the independent living movement and its achievements.

It adds: “At a time when discrimination continues to exist legally, structurally and within many parts of society, daily living conditions are deteriorating and the odds against us seem overwhelming, it is enormously important to be able to draw on a source of pride that sits at the core of our shared identity.”

The ideas behind the document began to be discussed several years ago with disabled activists involved in the campaign set up in 2011 to stop the planned closure of the Independent Living Fund.

More recently, there have been discussions at the National Disabled People’s Summit in November 2017, the Independent Living Campaign Conference later that month, and a ROFA round table event last May.

10 January 2019,  News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com