I, Daniel Blake (Review)

Written by Filip L

The most recent film from the acclaimed film director Ken Loach, “I, Daniel Blake”, is the story of a decent and kind middle aged man who, through no fault of his own (he suffered a heart attack), finds himself at the mercy of the welfare state. The inevitable conclusion viewers of this film find themselves drawing is that our system of providing welfare to those in need, as reengineered by the current Tory government, has been designed to remove claimants from the welfare roll. To put it bluntly, the system has been deliberately redesigned NOT to make welfare payments.

Daniel Blake (played by the comedian Dave Johns) has written statements from his GP as well as the surgeon who operated on him, that he is unable to work until he has made a full recovery. This expert evidence is overridden by a low level, faceless (literally: Ken Loach only lets us hear her voice), and medically unqualified, ‘Health Care Worker’, who decides that he IS fit for work. His Employment and Support Allowance is denied; Blake wants to appeal, but finds himself up against a bureaucracy which has been designed to wear people down: he cannot appeal before he has been given the “right” to appeal by the DWP.

The UK has long shifted to a much more sinister form of capitalism than ever was the case; the treatment of workers at Amazon and Sport Directs spring to mind, as do companies such as Wonga that offer financial help to the dispossessed…at 3000% APR. Then there are those companies that make the poor pay a tax on hope (such as online Bingo and Poker sites), making you believe it ‘could be you’, but their software developers have been instructed to write the code in such a way that it ‘won’t be you’. The government does not have such tools at its disposal, but, as this film shows, they employ equally despicable, and outright cowardly, tactics to reduce their cost base and make you go away. At one stage we see Blake being kept holding on the telephone for 90 minutes until a DWP call centre handler picks up the phone (the intention is clearly for the claimant to give up holding) and any attempt to ask a legitimate question at the Job Centre is interpreted as a raised voice, followed by sanctions and removal by security. In order to keep his basic jobseekers allowance, Blake mustn’t merely spend 35 hours a week applying for jobs his GP has told him he can’t take, he must prove that he did. And that is clearly impossible, as, one can only assume, is exactly the DWP’s intention.

There are many heartwarming moments in this film too. First and foremost, there is the friendship between Blake and Katie (played by Hayley Squires), a beautiful single mum with 2 children, who has been rehoused to Newcastle because of a shortage of council flats in London. Blake, a skilled carpenter, turns her flat into something cosy and liveable, spends much of his time with her and her children, and is adored by them all. There is the manager of the supermarket, who deals with a shoplifting Katie, and simply decides to let her go, stolen food items in hand. Then there is the kind woman at the Foodbank, the helpful young people in the library, and a caseworker at the Job Centre, who gets reprimanded by her superior for showing Blake how to fill in a form online. And lastly, there is Blake’s young black neighbour, an entrepreneur of sorts, who has long realised how rigged the system is, and who sells designer trainers of dubious provenance. He is funny and disarmingly kind.

If you are a Tory caricature or a supporter of the alt-right, this film won’t cut any ice with you; if you are a member of the human race, it will. It strikes me that with a hard Brexit on the horizon, the possibility of the UK, a la May, becoming a tax haven off the coast of Europe, and rising food prices, the opportunities for so many of us to thrive, or even just survive, are disappearing before our very eyes.

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