If you’ve been on social media recently, you’ve probably witnessed the hype surrounding the recent Ken Loach film I, Daniel Blake. Loach won his second prestigious Palme d’Or award for the film at the Cannes film festival, creating a buzz at home and abroad. The social-realist style of the film tugs at the viewer’s heartstrings from start to end. With hard-hitting messages throughout, I, Daniel Blake exposes the truth about Conservative austerity: unflinchingly damaging to ordinary families of the UK. It’s been called “the Cathy Come Home for the 21st Century.”
The film follows a carpenter, Daniel Blake (played convincingly by the actor Dave Johns), who suffers a heart attack in his late 50s. The film then tells the all too familiar tale of Blake being failed by the Tory welfare benefits system, being incorrectly deemed fit for work by the government’s DWP. He becomes friends with a young Mother, Katie, who has been moved to Newcastle because of high rent prices and a lack of social and affordable housing in London. She is displaced away from her family, friends and children’s school; she is made to start a new life up North but struggles, like Daniel, with the limitations of the Job Centre’s rules and has to join the long queues at the local food bank. This is just the start of both of their spiral into poor living conditions amid frustrations towards a system that works against them.
On Question Time, in media statements and even in parliament, prominent Conservative MP’s such as the notorious Ian Duncan Smith and the current Business Secretary Greg Clark have criticised the film for being ‘fictional’, ‘unrealistic’ and ‘unfair.’ There’s a wave of irony in these statements, Tory MPs who vote for cuts to the welfare system suddenly feel victimised when a film director highlights the unfair living standards of people at the bottom of the hierarchy. Conservative’s denying the truth at the heart of the narrative, in my opinion, show that they’re scared of their power becoming threatened. When critical of a problematic bureaucracy, films can be powerful.
But in order to be effective in opposition, we can’t be complacent that a film will fight our corner for us, although it can be a springboard for real change. Real people in poverty need Labour to stand up to Tory cuts. As you’re reading this, a real person may have had their Employment Support Allowance cut and been deemed fit for work, is struggling to qualify for Job Seekers Allowance and is starting the humiliating and long drawn-out appeals process. With the prospect of their appeal being accepted in arms reach, they too like Daniel Blake could meet an early grave.
Real statistics show that the film is honest. Between December 2011 and February 2014, 2,380 people died after their Work Capability Assessment told them they should start looking for work. In the first half of 2016, The Trussell Trust reported that more than 500,000 three day emergency food parcels were distributed to people in crisis. Food banks are struggling to cope with rising numbers of people in poverty under Tory austerity. In Havering, your local supermarket’s food bank boxes are in need of being filled up more than ever.
I highly recommend seeing I, Daniel Blake. Turn your tears into fuel for campaigning and we can draw attention to detrimental Conservative cuts and merciless Work Capability Assessments. The film itself is convincing, with excellent acting and directing from Loach. But it is the effective mirroring of real people’s strife that will stay with you long after leaving the cinema.
Written by Hannah Dixon (Romford Labour Party Youth Officer)