For five years Joy Dove has been fighting for justice. Her disabled daughter Jodey Whiting took her own life in 2017 after the benefits she relied on to survive were wrongly stopped.
This week, Joy’s fight moved forward one more step, after she won the right to appeal against a decision by the High Court to block a second inquest.
Despite multiple failings by the Department for Work and Pensions, the original inquest took just 37 minutes to find Jodey had taken her own life.
Joy told me she was “over the moon that we might finally get to the truth, and someone might finally be held accountable”.
But looking at Liz Truss’s government’s plans for more austerity, she also felt fear. “There will be more Jodeys, of that I have no doubt,” she said. “Many, many more Jodeys. It’s actually getting worse out there.”
After she failed to attend a DWP Work Capability Assessment, 42-year-old Jodey’s disability benefits were stopped. At the time of the assessment, she was in bed with pneumonia, had been in hospital, and had recently found out she had a cyst on the brain.
Now, Joy, a great-grandmother to 16 children from Stockton, Co Durham, has written a book, A Mother’s Job. Published next week by Mirror Books, it tells the story of her fight to hold the state accountable for Jodey’s death.
“I went to Jodey’s grave to tell her I’ve written a book,” she says. “I still keep all her photos, the same little shrine. Nothing’s changed. I still write her Christmas and birthday cards and decorate the grave.
“I’m that close to her still, she’s around me all the time. I see her in the robins that follow me around, and I tell them about what’s happening with the inquest.”
The Mirror has been campaigning for Justice for Jodey since 2017, and in 2019, Joy spoke at our annual Real Britain panel at the Labour Conference, an experience she writes about in her book. She abandoned the speech she had been working on and held up pictures of Jodey and the post-mortem report, reducing a 350-strong audience to tears.
Joy had helped Jodey write to the DWP to explain why she couldn’t attend the appointment, and there should have been red flags on her file about her mental health. Yet for reasons Joy hopes a second inquest will uncover, this went unheeded and her benefits were stopped.
“A letter arrived from the DWP on February 25 saying Jodey was fit to work,” she told us all then. “She was already at the undertakers.”
It is still a raw wound, five years on. “My Jodey would have carried on if the DWP hadn’t treated her like that, telling her she was fit to work,” Joy says. “We’d written to them to tell them she’d been in hospital. She should have had a red flag on her file saying she was a suicide risk.
“We’d always helped each other out but I was struggling myself. She knew I couldn’t pay her rent and council tax – and she didn’t want to be a burden on people. She’d told the DWP in 2014 she’d take her own life if they took her benefits away, and she did.
“I lost my grandson – Jodey’s son – a couple of years later. He was never the same after Jodey’s death. You could see the pain in his face from losing his mum.” Joy’s journey to justice has been a rollercoaster. In 2019, the Independent Case Examiner found multiple and significant failings by the DWP, including five separate missed opportunities to take into account Jodey’s mental health.
The ICE report also showed how the DWP had continued to write to and leave voicemails for Jodey after her death. Joy even received an acknowledgement that Jodey had not been treated fairly from then Prime Minister Theresa May in Parliament.
Yet progress stalled when the High Court refused the application for a second inquest.
As the Truss and Kwarteng government plans austerity 2.0, we are barely coming to terms with the deaths that happened during George Osborne’s
On Wednesday, a new study by the University of Glasgow found that more than 330,000 excess deaths in England, Scotland and Wales in recent years can be attributed to austerity cuts. Researchers looked at the period from 2012 until 2019, which includes the year Jodey died.
Yet the latest Tory administration has signalled it intends to mark a return to austerity, including real-terms benefit cuts for millions of working-age people.
This means Jodey’s campaign isn’t just on behalf of her own daughter, Joy explains. “This isn’t just for me – it’s for the whole community around the Justice for Jodey campaign. So many people are facing the same fight. And now there will be more.
“This winter is going to be tough. I’ve only just topped up my key meter and I’m already on the emergency. Our social supermarket told me they had 90 people through the door yesterday, and 900 people have signed up. People are frightened. There will be more Jodeys.”
Joy’s case will be heard by the Court of Appeal sometime over the winter. Her solicitor Merry Varney, partner at law firm, Leigh Day, calls it “a very welcome and significant step forward. Joy’s fight for a full and fearless inquest to investigate Jodey’s death continues.”
When her solicitor rang to give her the news, Joy says she immediately burst into tears.
“I can always tell by her voice,” Joy says. “I knew, yes, we’ve got it. I was crying. I’m over the moon with the court’s decision and cannot thank
the judge enough for looking into Jodey’s case.”
What would Jodey have thought about the book being published next week? “It’d be a six and two threes,” Joy says. “She’d say ‘good on you, Mother’, but also ‘Good God, Mother, where are you putting me?”
This week, Joy went to her local library to ask if they could stock the book so people who couldn’t afford to buy it could still read it.
“They said, ‘yes of course, who has written it’?”
“I said, ‘well, me’!”
“Someone had already ordered one, can you believe that?”