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Disabled woman killed herself after her benefits were stopped

Jodey Whiting
Jodey Whiting Image credit:

The High Court confirmed on Tuesday, June 23, a disabled woman took her own life as a “direct result” after her benefits were stopped.

Jodey Whiting, 42, of Stockton-On-Tees killed herself two weeks after the government halted her Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) because she failed to attend a work capability assessment in February 2017.

Mum, Joy Dove, requested the court to launch a separate inquiry into how the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) were responsible for her daughter’s death.

Dove’s lawyers said there were "multiple, significant failings" by the DWP when they stopped Whiting’s benefits which was not taken into account at the previous inquest.

Her barrister Jesse Nicholls said: "The first inquest into Ms Whiting's death provided her family with no catharsis.

"Indeed, the inquest has had the opposite effect given what is now known about how Ms Whiting came by her death." 

Whiting was receiving benefits for more than ten years for mental health conditions, severe pain and a history of self-harm.

She told the DWP about the suicidal thoughts she was experiencing “a lot of the time”.

The DWP assessed Whiting at her home in 2016 because she was unable to walk more than just a few steps and was suffering severe anxiety.

Nicholls said: "There is no evidence that the department entertained that consideration at all."

Whiting’s assessment appointment was sent to her whilst she was in hospital, Dove found the letter unopened at her daughter’s home.

On February 6, 2017 the DWP stopped her ESA which also saw the termination of her housing council tax benefits.

Two weeks later Whiting took her own life.

Nicholls said: "There is a direct link between her suicidal thoughts and her being unable to cope if her benefits were terminated... her benefits were terminated, she felt unable to cope and she killed herself, and the DWP had been told, by her, about that risk."

On March 31 the decision made by the DWP to stop Whiting’s benefits was overturned.

The DWP were investigated by the independent case examiner which found the government had made significant mistakes, numerous breaches of the DWP policy and there had been "missed opportunities" for the DWP to reconsider the claim.

Nicholls told the High Court: "The question of whether the termination and handling of Ms Whiting's benefits and whether that caused or contributed to her death was not considered."

He went on to say the first inquest, which lasted just 37 minutes, did not include the new eveidence including the report from the independent case examiner.

The barrister added: "The up-to-date evidential picture is the one the court must consider and, in our submission, when considering that picture the court should be driven to the conclusion that there has been an insufficiency of inquiry."

The court heard the DWP 'was aware of the risk to her (Whiting) mental health if her benefits were withdrawn'

 Nicholls added in written arguments: "The DWP had assumed responsibility for Ms Whiting's welfare, they made repeated errors in the handling and termination of her ESA claim, they were aware of the significant risk if her benefits were terminated. Her suicide was a direct result of the DWP's decision.

"The DWP knew or ought to have known that mishandling and terminating Ms Whiting's ESA would give rise to a real and immediate risk that she would attempt suicide."

A different conclusion may be reached at a new inquest which is needed to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights, which imposes more requirements if a state body is involved.