Bankers trouser huge bonuses as foodbank use mushrooms.
I Daniel Blake was a carpenter..
After working as a joiner in Newcastle for most of his life, widower 59 year old Daniel Blake suffers a heart attack and needs help from the State. His consultant and GP say that he is not fit to return to work. The shambolic Department of Work and Pensions declare him fit and able to work, making him claim Jobseekers Allowance, seeking jobs he is unable to do on computers that he has never used
I, Daniel Blake
When a monastic cemetery was unearthed during excavations on a medieval site in Aberdeen last year, wags queuing at the local Halls of Plenty joked that the bones they’d found had been assessed and the monks passed fit for work. Presumably they were supposed to apply for jobs as skeleton staff.
‘Looking for non-existent jobs.. it humiliates me. You lose your self-respect, you’re done for’ – I am Daniel Blake.
Daniel Blake’s cardiac consultant and GP say that he is not yet fit to return to work. Unqualified, untrained Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) staff declare Daniel to be able to work and force him to claim Jobseekers Allowance. He befriends Katie, a single mother with two young children. They find themselves in limbo, caught up in a Kafkaesque nightmare of welfare failure. Both Dave Johns as Daniel and Hayley Squires as Katie produce stunning performances in the lead roles of this new Ken Loach film.
Ken Loach abandoned self-imposed exile to deliver ‘I, Daniel Blake’, fifty years on from Cathy Come Home and Poor Cow (1967).
On November 9th judges ruled in favour of a family that have been forced to pay the ‘bedroom tax’ on a room used for medical needs, overturning a Court of Appeal decision made two years ago against Jacqueline Carmichael, who has the skeletal disorder spina bifida. The judges decided that it is “irrational” to argue against the extra bedroom for a hospital bed at her flat in Southport.
‘I, Daniel Blake’ is especially topical given that a £75million performance-driven tax credits contract is to be cancelled. Awarded by HMRC to Concentrix to save £300million a year, it imposed sanctions, arbitrarily signing claimants off for suspected fraud and other ‘offences’, draconian measures cloaked in Orwellian jargon. ‘Mhairi Black calls for new law to prevent repeat of Concentrix tax credits scandal’ – Andrew Learmonth
A National Audit Office report says that the DWP has failed to achieve value for money from the health and disability assessments it had contracted out to Atos, Maximus and Capita. Giving evidence to a committee of MPs, the three companies have been forced to admit regret at the poor quality of their work.
Once contracts rely on target-drives and monetary results, a deliberate bias is created. Private companies administering State services – what should be critical safety nets – are an essential part of Austerity UK, the vile war being waged against the poor and the vulnerable.
A stereotypical drunk Scot and a gaggle of partying Geordie girls bring levity, yet spoil a scene when I, Daniel Blake could have broken from its predominantly ‘cubicle setting’, missing an opportunity for a display of mass solidarity. Though depicting suffocation and dehumanisation well, the box-type locations continue until the film reaches a rather disappointing ending. The accompanying photograph (above) is from SUWN. Regular screenwriter Paul Laverty based his devastating script on extensive interviews and research including spending a day with SUWN activists on the streets of Dundee; everything you see in the film happened to someone in real life.
Dr Tony Cox was arrested for ‘breach of the peace’ when trying to accompany a vulnerable claimant to her Work Capability Assessment, despite the woman’s statements in Tony’s defence. Tony was giving his time to help someone through the thicket of punitive government bureaucracy. Found guilty, on July 21st 2016 he was sentenced to serve a 150 hour community payback (sic) order.
Loach and Laverty can boast a wonderful track record of collaboration; they are responsible for some of the most moving and powerful dramas of the last 20 years, two decades of (en)countering austerity as crass benefit porn has flourished on screen. A Scot, Laverty’s outline for ‘Carla’s Song (1996)’ caught Loach’s attention to begin the partnership. The script introduced a Glasgow bus driver who befriends a Nicaraguan woman and visits Central America. Peter Mullan’s performance in ‘My Name is Joe’ won him the best actor at Cannes in 1998. In 2000 ‘Bread and Roses’ told the stories of a group of Los Angeles janitors who become activists to fight their exploitative bosses. Martin Compston played a youngster on a Greenock housing scheme trying to help his Mum in 2002’s ‘Sweet Sixteen’. ‘Ae Fond Kiss (2004)’ brought us a love story set within Glasgow’s Pakistani community. ‘The Wind that shakes the Barley (2006)’ documented the early days of the Irish Republican movement and won the duo their first Palme d’Or at Cannes.
The second Palme D’Or winner, ‘I, Daniel Blake’, proves that their work is as essential to our struggles now as it ever was. The film catalogues frustration; it’s a searing indictment of neoliberal Britain. Tears will well as you watch the film; by all means scream at the eye-wateringly serious – dozens suffering sanctions have been driven to suicide. But tears and anger are not enough.
Footnote: in a new collaboration auguring well for the future, Scots writer Jenni Fagan has turned her debut novel ‘The Panopticon’ into a script. It is set to be realised on film by Jim Loach, Ken’s son.