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…