Directed by Ken Loach
Crosby Plaza 3rd November, New Brighton Light 4th-9th November
Reviewed by Redskye
The film opens with a black screen and voices for a few minutes. Daniel is being medically assessed by the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP). He asks if the person is medically trained. “I’m a health care professional,” she proclaims, which doesn’t really answer his question.
He’s then asked if he can raise a hand to his shirt pocket or if he could put a hat on, then if he can walk 50 metres unaided. He’s then asked in medical terms if he is incontinent with his bowels. He simply states that he’s had a heart attack -while at work as a carpenter on a building site- and been told by his GP and hospital consultant to rest and not work until he has fully recovered.
The DWP decision letter tells him that he failed to get enough points to qualify for Employment Support Allowance (ESA). During his visit to Job Centre Plus to seek help he befriends Katie a young single mother. Katie has being threatened with a sanction (benefit cut) for being ten minutes late for signing on for her Job Seekers Allowance (JSA). Dan stands up and attempts to intervene in support. They have a security guard set on them and are ordered to leave under threat of the police being called. This heavy-handed approach is regularly used at job centres whenever a claimant raises their voice in complaint or anger. Such bully-boy tactics closes down any complaint – there and then.
We see all the processes Dan is forced to endure, as are all benefit claimants, to get any money to survive while he attempts to recover from his heart attack. Added emotional stress is the last thing a heart attack sufferer needs.
Ken Loach’s film represents the best of traditional working class people – self reliant, decent, honest and supportive of neighbours and others in need. We’ve not seen enough positive representation of working class people in recent years and for that it’s worth seeing.
Through the friendship of Dan and Katie we see two people driven into the kind of situations that reflect back to the poverty and brutality of the 1930s. Katie shoplifts to get sanitary towels that she can’t get from the food bank. Driven to sheer desperation she’s briefly drawn into prostitution and their friendship pulled apart as Dan tries to talk her out of it. In the weeks and months while waiting for his appeal and being sanctioned he sells his furniture, carpets and TV for a couple of hundred pounds just to survive.
While awaiting his ESA appeal we see Dan being knocked from pillar to post and with no money he tries to claim Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) but he can’t comply with the contractual requirements that he’s been arm twisted to sign because he’s simply too ill to work. Failing to comply with JSA bullying he’s sanctioned and left with nothing to live on. Additionally he faces paying bedroom tax.
Dan takes action and protests against his treatment by the job centre and it gains him cheers and support, but he is arrested and detained by the police, adding to his descent into desperation, humiliation and despair.
Later, Dan is reunited with Katie at his ESA appeal. His solicitor says that he should have his ESA restored – perhaps it’s too little too late? Both his GP and consultant are outraged at his treatment.
What is the purpose of this film? Is it just to document and dramatise the DWP processes and misery of welfare claimants? Or, is it a vain hope that the government, politicians and MPs might be poked and prodded into an act of conscience or shamed to make the DWP and welfare benefit system humane and supportive? The current system fundamentally dissuades, abuses, drives into poverty, makes ill, kills or drives claimants to suicide as a part of its processes and the failed outcomes of claiming benefits.
I, Daniel Blake is the best representation of what the British welfare benefit system has become in the 21st century. All governments whether Labour, Liberal or Conservative have shared an ideological disdain for the ‘unproductive’ unemployed, sick and disabled. Politicians have publicly pronounced that they believe in welfare support, but then regularly cut or abolish various welfare benefits.
They also then claim ‘work’ as a miracle cure for all ills – perhaps we’ve forgotten the Nazis also stated the same.
This was my first visit to the Crosby Plaza, the ticket pricing is the best on Merseyside. It was the fullest cinema audience I’ve ever sat in, with few spare seats left. The venue is clean, well looked after and very welcoming. As a volunteer run community-based cinema it really beats the commercial cinemas.