We Are All Daniel Blake

Many will think it a strange film to watch, as I celebrate my birthday. The truth is.. it’s an incredibly difficult film to watch, and reminds me in a way of a scab you keep picking at – it’s painful, but you can’t leave it alone.

The film explores the plight of Daniel, a carpenter, an average guy, with an average background, nothing spectacular, nothing unusual, so why would the acclaimed director Ken Loach spend time on this? Loach has never shied away from difficult subject matter, challenging the media portrayal of sensitive subjects such as abortion, homelessness and troubled upbringing (Up the Junction, Cathy Come Home, Kes).

I, Daniel Blake tells us of Daniel, 57, a joiner who has suffered a major heart attack. We see Daniel with his consultant who advises him that he is not fit to return to work as his heart still needs time to recover and she explains her concerns about Daniel not recovering but developing arrhythmia (an abnormal heart rhythm). During his assessment for ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) although Daniel scores point, he doesn’t score sufficient to qualify for ESA. This is one of the important points of the film, as this means that Daniel is deemed ‘fit for work’.

Daniel is interviewed by a healthcare professional for his WCA (Work Capability Assessment), one who he assumes will have contacted his doctor and consultant for information regarding his condition, but that doesn’t happen. Daniel should have had criteria applied due to the risk his condition posed, it’s not applied and we hear (a constant thread) of the continually unseen ‘decision maker‘. Due to this, Daniel is forced to apply for JSA (Job Seekers Allowance), a benefit for people who are ready and able to work; during this time he is also attempting to appeal the decision regarding his ESA.

We see the frustration of a 59 year old man with no IT knowledge being tied up with the bureaucracy of the benefit system that forces everyone to use computers and the internet, whilst trying to sort out his own issues we see Daniels chance meeting with Katie, a single mum of two who has escaped a homeless hostel and travelled 300 miles to get out of the hostel into their own home. Katie is sanctioned for being late to her appointment even though she explains why she has been late. The invisible ‘decision maker’ once again impacts on lives with devastating effect. Katie is unable to feed the family and heat her new home. We see Daniel, Katie and her children come together to try and overcome the adversity of their individual situations. We see the hopelessness of both their situations, the desperate depths that they are forced into, Daniel selling his belongings and Katie selling herself. Both desperate, both drowning in red tape, unable to get basic responses to simple queries….

The need for FoodBanks, its normalisation, the desperate need for Katie when she needs sanitary towels and has to resort to shop lifting, her attempt to glue her daughter Daisy’s shoes because she can’t afford to replace them… The film is dark, gritty, painful but above all it’s an honest reflection of the DWP (Department for Works and Pensions) and the Job Centre’s normality of demonising people at what for many will be their lowest ebb. 

The raw brutality of what was happening to both Daniel and Katie made them unusual friends, but as Daniel is given a glimmer of hope with his appeal date, we see Katie supporting him, as a true friend would.

It’s a brutal reflection of the demonisation by the media, those who have supported the Conservatives crowing of people’s need for a benefit system, one that has made it acceptable to call people scroungers, skivvers and ‘underclass’ because they may need a support system. 

I won’t spoil the film for people, but I found it uplifting that although at the end of the film everyone in the theatre was sobbing, everyone applauded as the credits ran. For me that proved that there are many people who still don’t buy into the ‘scroungers’ thinking of people who may need the benefit system, these people need to start making a noise about the changes not only in the system, but in the way in which applicants are demoralised and made to feel. 

I’d like to offer my thanks and deep respect to Ken Loach, for once again addressing an issue in an open, honest and approachable fashion. I came away, sobbing, angry but also taking away the glimmers of hope that are shown in the friendships that grow from need and despair.

If nothing else, please take the time to watch this film, more importantly ask that all those Conservative MP’s and Councillors take the time to watch it. Let them explain how they can think the system is acceptable, human, fair… 


Benefit changes and Suspended Coffee’s 

What an interesting, and productive day I’ve had. Spent with the genuinely fab Chris Robinson I think we have both ‘learned and earned’ so much today….

As Friday’s go, it was a normal start….. Hurrying my youngest three along to get them to school on time (and yes….my daughter isn’t at school, it’s college I know!) It was a ‘drive, drop and go’ as I then went to pick Chris up and head off to Hanley.

We arrived in Hanley in good time for a training session we had agreed to do on benefits. This included PIP (Personal Independence Payments), ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) and the ‘soon to be rolled out in Stoke-on-Trent’ UC (Universal Credit).

We were shown into the training room that was being used by Potteries Gold and I was very pleased to see the delightful Sarah Honeysett who took us through the different benefits. She thoroughly explained the differences between the different criteria for the different benefits and explained the application processes for each.

It was great to have a really interactive session where we could all use our own examples and have potential changes explained – non more so than when Universal Credit comes into force. I think it fair to say that we all expressed our concerns over the introduction of Universal Credit and our discussions raised real doubts around the change from weekly/fortnightly payments of many benefits to the calendar monthly payments that will be made with Universal Credit. This element of the changes made us all question the logistics of many people being unable to budget for really important payments like rent, which will no longer be paid directly to the landlord. One of the issues we spoke about was that because payments will be calendar monthly recipients of Universal Credit will have to work out their rent payments on a 12 months payment basis and not on a 4 weekly cycle, should they pay 4 weeks per benefit payment, at the end of the year they will find themselves 4 weeks in arrears…

Another issue will be that Universal Credit will be paid monthly in arrears. This has a number of effects. Those who live and depend on benefits will suddenly not have a regular payment for possibly 4 or 5 weeks – a number of payments could in effect be missed within that time, which could possibly lead to an increase in short term, high interest loans being taken out and an increase in the use of loan sharks…. The Government will benefit hugely from rolling out Universal Credit, they get to keep the benefit payments and any interest potentially for an extra 5 weeks before supporting many of our most vulnerable and least able to afford residents.

We discussed the issues of ‘mixed age’ couples and the changes they will face. Rather than benefits being based on the older of the couple, with the changes coming forward their benefits will be based on the younger of the couple… This potentially has huge implications to the income they may receive. Currently a single pensioner would be entitled to £151 in Pension and Pension Credit- if that pensioner is living with a ‘non pensioner’ together they will be entitled to £115 between them, as one of them will be deemed to be of ‘working age’. This is hardly promoting people living together…..

I think it fair to say that Councillor Robinson and myself have massive reservations about the changes to the benefit system and the implications for our residents across our City.

We left the training session and headed back to Longton where we wanted to have discussions with the cafés in Longton Market. We had some ideas that were wanted to bounce off the proprietors and gauge their interest. For Chris and I, we couldn’t have been happier with the responses from the cafés – what we went in to ask was if they would be interested and agreeable to starting to provide ‘suspended coffee’s’.

Suspended coffee’s are a simple way of providing a hot drink for someone who isn’t able to afford one. The mechanics of it are simple – I go into a café and say I want 2 coffee’s one for me and one ‘suspended’ – I pay for 2 cups and take the one I want to drink. The café ‘hold’ the suspended coffee until someone goes and asks if they have any suspended coffee’s- they are then given a hot drink which someone has given to them. It’s a simple yet effective initiative.

Chris and I have been working to help the homeless in the City and will try as many initiatives as we can to benefit them – we know that the weather is going to worsen, and the provision of a hot drink can help to keep someone warm and provide some comfort.

 If you feel that you can support this initiative, please pay for a suspended coffee, it’s not just Chris and I that will appreciate it….